The Benefits of Later School Start Times for Student Health and Learning

The Benefits of Later School Start Times for Student Health and Learning

There has been growing evidence that early school start times can negatively impact students' health, wellbeing, and academic performance. Several major health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Medical Association (AMA), have issued policy statements recommending that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. However, the majority of American schools still start earlier than this recommended time.

Implementing later start times can be logistically challenging for school districts, often requiring coordination of bus schedules, sports practices, and other extracurricular activities. However, the benefits are significant and school management system software can help streamline logistics. This article will analyze the evidence behind the benefits of later school start times in the following sections:

  • Improved Sleep Health
  • Enhanced Academics and Attendance
  • Better Mental Health and Reduced Risky Behavior
  • Decreased Traffic Accidents
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Conclusion

Improved Sleep Health

Sleep is essential for students' growth, health, and cognitive functioning. However, research consistently shows that students are significantly sleep deprived, largely due to early school start times. Some key statistics include:

  • Only 15% of adolescents get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • The average high school student sleeps fewer than 7 hours per night.
  • Sleep deprivation is associated with impairments in mood, attention, memory, behavior control, executive function, and quality of life.

Later school start times help correct this problem by better aligning with teens' natural sleep cycles. During puberty, adolescents' circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles shift later, meaning it is difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. However, with early school start times they still have to wake up very early, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

Studies have conclusively shown that delaying school start times results in substantial increases in sleep duration for students:

  • A study examining a 30-minute later school start time for middle schoolers and high schoolers found students gained an average of 18 more minutes of sleep per day.
  • Multiple studies have found that high schoolers gain between 30-60+ more minutes of sleep per day with later school start times.
  • A study on a 1-hour later start time for 5 Seattle high schools found students averaged 50 minutes more sleep per day.

This additional sleep promotes enhanced health, academic performance, safety, and quality of life. School management system software can enable administrators to easily shift schedules.

Enhanced Academics and Attendance

In addition to concrete health benefits, later start times also translate to significant academic advantages. Students who get more sleep exhibit enhanced cognitive functioning, attention, behavior control, attendance and academic success.

Some research results include:

  • A study on a 1-hour later high school start time found students' median grades increased by 4.5% and students were 20% less likely to fail courses.
  • Multiple studies link later start times to improved attendance, motivation, engagement, and grades among adolescents.
  • A study found math and English test scores increased after a 1-hour delay in middle school and high school start times.
  • Schools that shifted to a later bell time demonstrated a Drop in student tardiness and absenteeism between 8-20%.

The evidence clearly shows that better-rested students have the cognitive capacity and motivation to achieve their full academic potential. School management system software enables admin staff to easily track grades, behavioral incidents, attendance records and other metrics that typically improve with later start times.

Better Mental Health and Reduced Risky Behavior

Adolescent mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress and poor self-image have been rising at alarming rates in recent years. Sleep deprivation exacerbates these struggles.

Research demonstrates that delaying school start times can mitigate mental health risks and emotional dysfunction among teens:

  • Teens who sleep less are significantly more likely to suffer from depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Shift workers and teens exhibit similar rates of emotional disorders tied to circadian disruption.
  • A study found a 25-30 minute later school start time reduced depression rates by 14% among students.
  • Students report improved motivation, self-confidence, mood, and alertness as well as less daytime sleepiness with later start times.

Adequate sleep also influences teens’ decision-making abilities and reduces the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors like substance abuse, delinquency, and unsafe sexual activity. Researchers have hypothesized multiple reasons for this connection:

  • Sleep loss is linked to poor impulse control, lack of inhibition, aggression, and emotional volatility - all factors that increase the likelihood of risky behavior.
  • Fatigued students may use substances as a coping mechanism to feel more awake.
  • Students have more opportunities to engage in unstructured activities outside of parental supervision when staying awake later due to early school start times.

While more research is needed, initial results imply that later school start times could significantly benefit teens’ psychological health and safety. School management system software gives staff data tools to track at-risk student referrals, behavior, and other warning signs.

Decreased Traffic Accidents

Drowsy driving is a major risk for teens with early school start times. Adolescents are already at very high risk of getting into fatal car crashes due to factors like distracted driving and intoxication. Adding sleep deprivation to the mix worsens their crash risk.

Statistics show:

  • Car crash fatalities increase by 48% for drivers ages 16-19 when school start times are before 8 a.m.
  • 70% of high school students report driving while drowsy.
  • 15-33% of fatal teen crashes involve drowsy driving, many occurring in the early morning.
  • Teens cause over 50% of fall asleep crashes even though they only make up 7% of licensed drivers.
  • Drowsy driving causes over 100,000 car crashes each year.

By better aligning school schedules with adolescent sleep needs, districts can significantly curb dangerous drowsy early morning commutes. With school management system software, administrators can coordinate schedules and transportation routes to reduce student traffic risks.

Here are answers to some common questions about school start times:

What time should schools start?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to match teens’ sleep cycles better.

Don’t students just stay up later if school starts later?

While bedtimes shift slightly later, students still gain significant sleep with delayed starts, averaging 30-60+ extra minutes of sleep per day.

How much sleep do teenagers need?

Teens age 14-17 need 8-10 hours of sleep per night for optimal health, according to the CDC and AAP. Only 15% currently get enough.

What are disadvantages of later start times?

Potential disadvantages include scheduling sports and extracurriculars later into the evening, increased after-school childcare costs, and transportation coordination issues. However, schools can mitigate these impacts with planning. And the benefits outweigh potential obstacles.

Doesn’t amount of sleep matter more than timing?

Both sleep duration and timing are crucial for adolescents. Later school start times address major barriers so students can meet the 8-10 hours per night minimum.

How can schools shift to later start times?

Strategic calendar scheduling, better route planning with transportation departments, coordination across school levels, community feedback processes, and optimized activity scheduling can facilitate later start times. School management system software also helps streamline logistics.


The evidence conclusively demonstrates that early school start times conflict with adolescents' biological sleep needs. Later school start times better align with teens' sleep cycles, supporting significant physical health, neurological, safety and academic advantages.

Some key takeaways include:

  • Students gain 30-60+ more minutes of precious sleep per day with later start times. This enhanced sleep duration translates to substantial benefits.
  • Well-rested students demonstrate better cognitive functioning, grades, test scores, engagement and attendance.
  • Delaying start times also mitigates adolescent mental health issues like stress, depression, and self-harm risk while reducing substance abuse and traffic accidents.
  • School management system software helps districts seamlessly coordinate schedules, transportation, data tracking and logistics to transition to healthier school start times.

While systemic change presents some challenges, the dramatic benefits of adjusting school schedules to match teens’ sleep needs are resoundingly positive. School districts across the country should align academic policies and programs with the health, safety and success of our nation’s adolescents. Implementing later secondary school start times to enable students to get the sleep they need is an effective step towards that goal.