Nearly three-quarters of high school students do not get enough sleep on school nights, according to the.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens sleep for. But various factors hinder this, including early school start times and – the biological internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. for teens’ physical, cognitive and emotional development. When teens don’t get enough sleep, it can have lifelong impacts. They range from to .
As a neurologist, I have studied the profound importance of sleep in optimizing the body and mind. I believe insufficient sleep among adolescents is a public health crisis. This is why I reached out to my local state representative in Pennsylvania, , a member of the House Education Committee, in October 2023 and pushed for legislative change. The resulting would mandate that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:15 a.m. by the 2026-27 school year.
While parents, educators and school administrators cannot alter biology, they can change school start times to allow students to obtain sufficient sleep for academic success and physical and mental well-being. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricsto 8:30 a.m. or later.
Around the world,, from 7 a.m. in Brazil to 9 a.m. in Finland. While I’m not aware of any global dataset or research on the relationship between school start times and academic performance, Finland was ranked No. 2 on the list of in the Global Citizens for Human Rights report in 2020. Canada, where the average school day begins at 8:30 a.m., was ranked No. 4.
Sleep and the teenage brain
Parents may notice that their kids, who were once early birds, start to sleep later and later as they hit their teen years. This is not just due to typical teen behavior like playing video games late at night, but rather it’s a.
During adolescence, changes in hormone levels, along with physical and brain maturation, lead to natural shifts in the circadian rhythm. The body tends to delay the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for bringing on drowsiness at night.
Consequently, teens often find it, leading to a later bedtime. This delayed circadian rhythm also results in a preference for waking up later in the morning. These changes clash with societal and cultural expectations such as early school start times, often contributing to sleep deprivation among teenagers.
More than 80% of public middle and high schools across the United States, with 42% starting before 8 and 10% before 7:30. Consequently, bus pickup for some children can be as early as . What follow are four negative outcomes associated with early school start times.
Hindered academic success
Numerous studies have linked early school start times to poorer performance on.
One study looked atfor 30,000 students in 29 high schools across seven states. It found a significant improvement in attendance rates, from 90% to 93%, and graduation rates, from 80% to 90%, four years after delaying school start times to 8:30.
Sleep deprivation has been shown to worsen, , and – a perfect storm for poor academic performance.
Poorer mental health
A recentraised the alarm on the harmful impacts of social media on youth mental health. Researchers have unearthed mounds of evidence on the negative effects, including . In these discussions, however, a simple yet powerful solution for improving mental well-being is often overlooked – the profound impact of sleep.
During REM sleep – or the dream state – our memories consolidate and we process emotions. Insufficient sleep increases the risk of, and among adolescents. One study showed that for every extra hour of sleep among adolescents, their by 11%.
Impaired physical health and social behavior
Sleep is fundamental for physical well-being. For both children and adults, it plays a key role in essential bodily functions. During slow-wave sleep – or deep sleep – our bodies restore themselves: Ourto keep us healthy. And our waste-clearing glymphatic system , which are linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Sleep deprivation is associated with higher rates of, , and weakened immune function. Sleep-deprived students are more likely to fall asleep when sedentary, such as when driving a car. related to driving while drowsy are especially prevalent among teen drivers.
Sleep-deprived students are also more likely to demonstrate aggression, struggle with social communication and engage in risk-taking behaviors. One study found that the amount of sleep that high school students get is directly related to their, such as substance abuse, risky driving, aggressive behavior and tendency toward self-harm.
An economic cost
The economic ramifications of this crisis may not be immediately obvious, but they are undeniable. Contrary toby changing bus schedules, a 2017 study conducted by the nonprofit RAND Corp. found that the economic benefits .
The study showed that a universal shift to 8:30 a.m. school start times would result in an $8.6 billion gain in the U.S. economy over two years. Investing in delayed school start times, therefore, isn’t a drain on resources. Instead, it contributes to a healthier future for generations to come.