Schools’ Early Start Times Thwart Teen Sleep

Early school start times are preventing adolescents from getting the recommended amount of sleep each night. 

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Based on the recommendation that teens should be getting eight to ten hours of sleep each night (at least nine hours for preteens), the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that middle and high schools ring their starting bell no earlier than 8:30 a.m. every morning. 

Yet, in reviewing data from over 40,000 public middle and high schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that four in five school stray from the standard, which means that only two-thirds of American adolescents are getting enough sleep.  

The results vary by state, with almost an hour separating the earliest and latest starting schools in the country: Schools in Louisiana have an average start time of 7:40 a.m., while schools in Alaska tend not to start until 8:33 a.m.

But what’s the big deal? Less sleep just prepares teens for life in the real world, right? Not quite. Our brains aren’t considered fully mature until we reach our mid-twenties. So for tweens, teens, and even young adults whose brains are still in developmental stages, insufficient sleep can act as a tipping factor on an already wobbly foundation.

A lack of sleep makes adolescents more likely to perform poorly in school, suffer from depressive symptoms and weight gain, and even engage in risky behavior like smoking, drinking, or illicit drug use.  

An early school start time may certainly contribute to your teen’s sleep deprivation, but it’s not the only influential factor. Too much screen time and not enough physical activity can cause raccoon eyes, too.

After encouraging your teen to check out this story about a teen who persuaded her school to push back its start time, share these five ways to get better sleep tonight