The Pros and Cons of Starting School Later

Delayed start times could prevent teens from falling asleep in class.
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When The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement urging school districts to consider later start times for teens, a debate over the pros and cons of starting school later ensued. While health experts claim school needs to be delayed so adolescents can get adequate sleep, many districts say changing the time school starts isn't feasible. 

Why Doctors Say High School Should Start Later

The AAP’s Adolescent Sleep Working Group reviewed the studies involving inadequate sleep in teens.

Researchers analyzed the harmful effects sleep deprivation—anything less than 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep on school nights—an have on young people.

They concluded that poor sleep has been linked to increased reliance on caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, and they also discovered a link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance.

While it may seem the solution is for teens to simply go to bed earlier, researchers say that isn't a viable solution. Teens experience hormonal shifts that make falling asleep earlier difficult, if not impossible. Their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep at 8 p.m., even when they’re tired.

Researchers recommend school start times be delayed for teens until at least 8:30 a.m. Previous studies have shown that simply delaying school by 30 minutes can have a dramatic impact on a teen’s health and performance.

The Reasons Many Districts Aren’t Changing Start Times

Despite the recommendation from the AAP, it appears the majority of school districts aren’t planning to change their start times.

School officials often cite logistical concerns about starting the school day later.

Delaying the start time of high schools within a district could pose problems with bus schedules, after school activities, and sporting events. Most districts already have staggered start times for the schools and they report that delaying the high school start time would have a domino effect on all the schools that could pose a logistical nightmare.

The Pros of Delaying School Start Times

Proponents offer these potential benefits of starting school later:

  • Teens may be more likely to get the recommended amount of sleep. 
  • A delayed start time could help teens sleep during their natural sleep/wake cycles.
  • Teens may be less likely to depend on caffeine to stay awake during the day.
  • Adequate sleep could help teens be more alert during the school day, which could boost their academic performance.
  • Sleeping longer could reduce health-related issues that accompany sleep deprivation.
  • Getting home later in the afternoon may reduce the amount of time some teens are home alone, and could decrease the likelihood teens will engage in unhealthy activities.

The Cons of Delaying School Start Times

Critics of delayed start times offer these concerns:

  • Delaying junior high or high school start times would likely impact the schedule for all schools within a district.
  • Teens would get out of school later in the afternoons, which could pose problems for teens who provide childcare to younger siblings.
  • Students who participate in sports and extra-curricular activities would get home much later in the evenings.
  • Teens may stay up even later if they don't have to wake for school at an earlier time.

    What Can Parents Do

    If you feel strongly that your child’s health and academic life is being disrupted by a lack of sleep, advocate for your child. Share your concerns with school officials. Attend school board meetings and discuss the issue with other parents. You may be able to gain enough support to create change.

    In the meantime, support your teen in getting plenty of high quality sleep. Teach your teen about appropriate sleep hygiene. Establish a reasonable bedtime and limit your teen’s screen time before bed - studies have shown it interferes with sleep.


    The American Academy of Pediatrics. School start times for adolescents. AAP Gateway. August, 2014.

    National Sleep Foundation. Eight Major Obstacles to Delaying School Start Times.

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