High Schools Stick with Early Start Times, Despite Scientific Evidence on Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most teens do not get enough sleep and one study discovered that only 15 percent of teenagers reported sleeping eight and a half hours a night.  Getting more sleep can lead to more productivity and better learning, according to the foundation’s study. It also leads to less drowsy driving accidents and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Some schools in Connecticut have recently been rolling school start times forward to help high school students get more sleep. Many others have debated the issue but opted to maintain the status quo, despite the research.


West Hartford has seriously considered moving start times forward repeatedly for more than a decade. The latest proposal was tabled last year.  Rocky Hill adjusted start times by 10 minutes this year, with some Board of Education members suggesting a broader change may be considered in the future. Wilton changed to later school start times over a decade ago and, starting in 2017, Greenwich High School moved to an 8:30 a.m. start.  Ridgefield’s Board of Education voted to push back middle school and high school start times, then reversed that plan, which was to take effect this school year, saying “Now is not the time for successful implementation in Ridgefield.”  School system officials in New Canaan say they will consider a later start time for the high school later this year.

State legislation to require that high schools not begin instruction before 8:30 was proposed earlier this year but not considered by legislators.


Sarah Raskin, PhD, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Trinity College, has described the early start times as a “serious public health issue that is harming many high school students across our state.  It may be causing them to be ill, have higher rates of depression and substance abuse, obesity, car accidents and sports injuries.  It is reducing their academic performance in the classroom and on standardized tests.”

Noting that both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have released recommendations that high schools not start earlier than 8:30 a.m., Raskin points out that due to biological changes at puberty, young teens simply cannot fall asleep earlier at night.  Research has shown that when start times move later, teens do not go to sleep later — instead they get more sleep.  This has been demonstrated in a number of studies, including a recent report on 62, 000 teenagers around the USA reported in Scientific American.  When teens have to be in school before 8:30 it is not possible for them to get enough sleep, Raskin explained in a CT Mirror Viewpoint article

A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics tracked 829 adolescents and concluded those with longer and better-quality sleep had lower blood pressure, better cholesterol results and less tendency to be overweight. The study concluded it makes sense to assess how improving sleep quantity and quality can be a strategy to improve the "cardiovascular risk profiles" of teenagers.

That has led many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, to recommend that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

It has been estimated that only about 15% of the nearly 14,000 school districts in the U.S. meet the 8:30 a.m. guideline for their high schools. While some districts have changed in recent years, late-start advocates have run into a range of objections: the effects on school bus routes; extracurricular activities; and accommodating parent work schedules.

A study published last year in the journal Science Advances tracked high school students in Seattle, where in 2016 middle and high schools pushed back starting times from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.  Researchers found students averaged 34 minutes more sleep per night than before the switch, got better grades and were tardy or absent less often.