Schools Start Way Too Soon

school bus
Fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. begin the day at the recommended start time of 8:30 a.m. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Though it's well known that sleep is critical to a child's health and success, a majority of school administrators in the U.S. still insist on starting the academic day at the crack of dawn. A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the country begin the day at the recommended start time of 8:30 a.m. Most start classes at least a half-hour earlier.

According to the report—based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers information from nearly 40,000 schools—42 out of 50 states reported that at least 75 percent of their public schools start the day before 8:30 a.m. The average start time for these early schools was 8:03 a.m. School start times are determined by a school district's administrators, not the state or federal education department.

Schools in Louisiana had the earliest start time, with some starting the day as early as 7:40 a.m. North Dakota and Alaska are the most civilized, with 75 percent beginning the day at 8:30 a.m. or later.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that the school day begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The academy noted that while puberty, the pressures of standardized tests and too much soda are all elements that can mess with a teens' circadian rhythm, the time they're required to hop on the school bus is one of the more significant factors contributing to chronic sleep deprivation.

An earlier start time at school typically means that kids aren't getting the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on a school night. Research finds that teens are hardwired for night owl behavior, which means many are not able to go to bed early enough to get sufficient rest. Teenagers experience a shift in the production of melatonin, the hormone largely responsible for sleep. In teens, melatonin is at its peak between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. This explains why students who need to head to class before 8 a.m. are still so drowsy. (Adults, on the other hand, have their strongest sleep cycle between 2 and 4 a.m., so by 8 a.m. they tend to be fairly awake.)

This also sets up young people to have poor sleep hygiene throughout their life. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a host of health problems. including obesity, substance abuse, tobacco use and, of course, poor academic performance.

Schools Start Way Too Soon | Tech & Science