Would a later school start time improve teen sleep?
Sleep is an essential part of staying healthy, yet many teens don’t get enough sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that teens get around 8-10 hours of sleep per day, however it is estimated that many teens fall short of that amount.
Reasons for poor sleep vary from teen to teen. In a 2018 Mott Poll report, parents cited a variety of causes, including technology, homework, and anxiety, and reported trying several strategies to deal with their teens’ sleep problems, such as limiting caffeine, turning off electronics, and even over-the-counter or prescription sleep medicine. Full report: When teens can’t sleep
In a recent editorial in JAMA Pediatrics, experts suggest that a key way to improve teen sleep is to delay the start of the school day to 8:30 a.m. or later. This could not only help teens achieve the recommended amount of sleep per day, but could also help improve their overall health and well-being.
Delaying school start times has been a highly debated topic in recent years. Statistics show that over 40% of high schools in the US start before 8:00 a.m. Advocates for later start times say allowing teens to sleep in later on school days would keep them in line with their natural sleep cycles and could allow them to get more sleep. On the other hand, many are worried about the impact later start times would have after-school activities, while some suggest it might encourage teens to stay up later.
Parents in a 2015 Mott Poll report whose teens had start times before 8:30 a.m. were divided on this topic, with half in favor and half opposed to delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.
When asked about the impact of later school start times:
- 40% of parents said their teens would get more sleep
- About 1 in 5 said their teens’ school performance would improve
- 22% said it would not allow enough time for after-school activities
- 1 in 7 said it would negatively impact transportation
The AAP has been advocating for middle and high schools to begin at 8:30 a.m. or later since 2014. Experts suggest that adequate sleep allows teens to function at a higher level in relationship building, avoiding risky behaviors, regulating their emotions, and in everyday situations like going to school, learning to drive, and basic decision making. While there may be other external factors that prohibit teens from achieving better sleep, delaying school start times could be an effective way to encourage better sleep, and better health, for teens across the country.