High Schools Are Finally Paying Attention to Sleep Science and Giving Up Crazy-Early Start Times

Sleepy Students
Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP/Corbis

It’s pretty well-established at this point that forcing middle- and high-schoolers to shuffle into class at early hours is not a good idea. Sleep deprivation hurts everyone, of course, but given the rapid developmental phases they’re going through, their frequently busy lives, and their tendency to stay up late, teenagers are particularly susceptible to being harmed by early start times. That’s why the American Academy for Pediatrics recommended last year that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30.

Now, reports the Associated Press’s Donna Gordon Blankinship, schools are starting to take notice — for instance, “The Seattle school board voted last month to adopt an 8:45 a.m. start time beginning next year for all of its high schools and most of its middle schools.” Seattle joins a list, Blankinship notes, of 70 school systems that have made similar shifts in recent years — part of an important trend of researchers’ teen-sleep findings slowly trickling down to school systems. As the article notes, “studies have shown later start times help combat sleep deprivation in teens, who naturally fall asleep later than their parents would like, and improve academic success, attendance, mental health and cut sleep-related car accidents.”

That doesn’t mean these shifts have been easy to pull off; in some places, like Chicago, campaigns to move some start times later have simply failed; and in other places, they’ve run up against opposition stemming from logistical concerns (often because of bus-scheduling issues and the like; if you start your high school a bit later, it might mean starting your elementary school a bit earlier).

Still, 70 is a good start, and hopefully that number will grow in the years to come, reducing the number of teens helplessly slumped on their desk during their 7:45 a.m. chemistry lectures.

High Schools Are Finally Heeding Sleep Science