School Start Time and Sleep

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fact, public opinion seems to side with Lofgren's "Zzz's to A's" resolution. According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2002 Sleep in America poll, 80% of respondents said high schools should start no earlier than 8:00 a.m. each day; nearly one-half of these respondents (47%) said start times should be between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Only 17% of those polled said high school classes should begin before 8:00 a.m.


A study by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota, demonstrates the impact of pushing back school start times. After the Minneapolis Public School District changed the starting times of seven high schools from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., Dr. Wahlstrom investigated the impact of later start times on student performance, and the results are encouraging. Dr. Wahlstrom found that students benefited by obtaining five or more extra hours of sleep per week.

She also found improvement in attendance and enrollment rates, increased daytime alertness, and decreased student-reported depression. Many experts agree that adolescents require 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, however, few actually get that much sleep.

Even with compelling research, changing school start times can be challenging for school districts. Administrators have to delay busing schedules. Coaches worry about scheduling practices and many parents rely on the current start times for reasons such as childcare or carpools.

Students are concerned that being in school later in the day means that it will cut into after-school jobs and other extracurricular activities. Still, there are convincing reasons to push back school start times. Mary Carskadon, PhD, a renowned expert on adolescent sleep, cites several advantages for teens to get the sleep they need:

  • less likelihood of experiencing depressed moods;
  • reduced likelihood for tardiness;
  • reduced absenteeism;
  • better grades;
  • reduced risk of drowsy driving ; and
  • reduced risk of metabolic and nutritional deficits associated with insufficient sleep, including obesity.

Dr. Carskadon is Director of the Chronobiology/Sleep Research Laboratory at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, R.I., and Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Brown University School of Medicine. She is a member of NSF's Sleep and Teens Task