Let’s learn about why schools should start later

Most U.S. high schools start before 8:30 a.m. — too early, according to experts

the early morning sun peeks through the trees as a middle school girl stands on the curb waiting for an approaching school bus

When school times start later, teens tend to feel better and do better in school.

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One of the hardest things about going back to school after a break is waking up for it. And unfortunately, many schools start too early, according to scientific experts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that middle and high schools shouldn’t start before 8:30 a.m. That’s because as people go through puberty, their internal clocks naturally shift. It becomes hard for them to nod off before 11:00 p.m. But teens still need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. So, when they have to get up before the sun peeks over the horizon, they miss out on crucial shut-eye.

Dozing in class is only the most visible of problems cause by this lack of sleep. That sleep now lost to early alarm clocks is vital for helping the body grow and heal from illness or injuries. The brain also loses out on time to process memories. Sleepy teens are more likely to feel anxious or depressed, as well as use drugs or alcohol. And sleeping in on weekends is no replacement for lost zzz’s during the week. Binge-sleeping poses its own health risks.

Some schools have shifted their start times to later in the morning. Researchers are now tracking the impacts. It seems that teens who start school later do get more sleep. They’re more likely to get to class on time and stay awake during the day. They even seem to do better in school.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Starting schools later leads to less tardiness, fewer ‘zombies’ With extra sleep, teens are less likely to oversleep or feel tired every day, data show. (10/5/2021) Readability: 6.9

Later school starts linked to better teen grades Low-income students also may find it easier to get to school with later start times. (2/5/2019) Readability: 6.7

Survey finds U.S. schools start ‘too early’ Majority of U.S. public middle and high schools start before 8:30 a.m. (9/10/2015) Readability: 6.0

A sleep researcher and mother of a teenager explains why it’s a problem that American schools start too early.

Explore more

Scientists Say: Circadian

Scientists Say: Melatonin

Explainer: The teenage body clock

Let’s learn about sleep

The steady creep of less sleep

Study links weight to when the school bell rings

Early school starts can turn teens into ‘zombies’

Surprise! Exam scores benefit from months of regular sleep

Activities

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You may not be able to control when your school starts. But you can try to get the most shuteye — and the most out of it — possible. Find out how healthy your sleep schedule is by keeping a sleep diary. Track when you wake up and go to bed, as well as daytime activities that can affect sleep — such as exercise, drinking caffeine and napping. This can help you find out whether any part of your daily routine might be making it harder to get enough sleep. Plus, check out these tips for improving your “sleep hygiene.”

Maria Temming is the assistant editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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