CDC: Most U.S. Middle and High Schools Start Earlier Than Recommended

August 11, 2015|3:48 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

According to CDC’s Aug. 7 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 82.3 percent of U.S. middle and high schools begin classes before 8:30 a.m. After reviewing data from the 2011-2012 Schools and Staff Survey, CDC and the U.S. Department of Education found that the average national start time for public middle, high, and combined schools was 8:03 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends allowing adolescents to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. so that they can get eight hours of sleep per night while accommodating their bodies’ natural sleep cycles, which do not usually allow them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

Study results varied widely across the country: no schools in Hawaii, Mississippi, or Wyoming reported starting at 8:30 a.m. or later, but more than 75 percent of schools in Alaska and North Dakota reported starting at recommended times. Louisiana schools reported starting the earliest, at 7:40 a.m. on average, and had the highest percentage of schools starting before 7:30 a.m. CDC’s report notes that less than one-third of high school students nationwide sleeps at least eight hours on school nights, and lack of sleep has been linked to worse academic performance and elevated rates of depression, weight gain, and alcohol and drug use.

Researchers have found the sleep patterns change over the course of the lifespan: starting during puberty, children naturally go to sleep later and wake up later, a trend that continues until young adulthood, at which point individuals revert to their pre-puberty sleep habits. However, adolescents may also find it hard to fall asleep early or may experience poorer quality sleep because of negative sleep hygiene habits, including spending extended time on electronic devices right before bedtime.

Opponents of delayed school start times cite potential increased morning traffic, the high cost of changing bus schedules, and concerns about changes to students’ after-school activities as the major hurdles to changing school start times. However, one of the largest school systems in the country, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, changed its policy last year to push high school start times back 40 minutes starting this fall.