What Time Should School Start?

george formatted

George Knowles, Digital Communications Associate

It’s that time of year again. For our young people, summer vacation is fast becoming a fond memory, and students are busy readjusting to the busy rhythm of the school year. This year, however, many students will at least be getting a bit more sleep.

States Are Hitting the Snooze Button

Here in the Washington suburbs, Montgomery County elementary schools will open 10 minutes later than last year, while high school and middle school students will receive an extra 20 minutes of time. In nearby Fairfax County, Virginia, high schools this year will open between 8-8:10a.m., compared to last year’s 7:45 a.m. start time.

The idea isn’t unique to the D.C. metro area. Starting school later in the day is a trend that’s been gaining momentum nationwide. 43 states have now begun to schedule later school start times or have plans to in the future.

Moving school start times forward is a step in the right direction, but is it good enough? Classes at Montgomery County high schools will begin at 7:45 a.m., and elementary schools at 8:15 a.m., which both fall short of the 8:30 a.m. starting time that sleep experts recommend.

The Case for Starting Later 

Sleep is essentially food for the developing brain, and early schools days can interfere with getting enough of it.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, The NIH has identified adolescents and young people (ages 12 to 25) as being a high-risk population in terms of insufficient sleep, and sleep patterns for adolescents and teenagers typically shift later for both falling asleep and waking up, which means that many don’t fall asleep before 11 p.m. Waking up for a full day of school without enough sleep can be a challenge. In a 2013 survey, only 31 percent of high school students reported getting 8 hours of sleep per night.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC), citing links between adequate sleep, and health and learning, recently advised school districts to begin school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Most middle and high schools in the United States begin their days at 8:03 a.m.,. According to a study published in the American Psychological Association, elementary students who went to school earlier suffered academically and psychologically, especially those in lower economic populations.

Lack of sleep particularly affects teenagers and middle school students. There is a broad range of risks associated with adolescents not getting sleep, including:

Slowly but surely, schools in the United States are starting school later, but not late enough to fully allow students to get the sleep they need. There are a variety of factors involved in school start times (such as parent schedules, school district logistical concerns and resources), but shifting to a later school day could prove to be beneficial for our students’ overall health and learning.

George Knowles is the Digital Communications Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.