Sleepy Teenagers

Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute
Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute

By Ralph Kerr

Surveys of sleep-deprived teens find that teens think that a later start time for school and tests given later in the school day would result in better grades. Here are some other findings:

  • 78% of students said it was difficult for them to get up in the morning
  • Only 16% said they regularly had enough sleep
  • 70% thought their grades would improve if they had more sleep
  • 90% thought their academic performance would improve if school were to start
  • 20 – 28% of teenagers said they have fallen asleep in class in a given

So that’s what teens say, but what do authorities say? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation is to hold off beginning middle and high school until 8:30 AM. An international study group said ideally start time should be no earlier than 10:00 AM for 16- year olds and no earlier than 11:00 AM for 18-year old’s. The Pediatrics Academy also says adolescents who do not get enough sleep are at risk for a host of serious physical problems, including obesity and diabetes; safety concerns, including drowsy driving; issues related to mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and decreased motivation; and decrease in school performance, poor attendance and higher dropout rates.

The non-profit group Start School Later maintain that in some of its studies there has been a 40 percent drop in tardiness, an almost 50 percent reduction in student visits to the nurse, and staff reports that students are more alert and ready to learn. Researchers at the University of Minnesota in a major study involving 9,000 students found improved student performance in English, math, science, social studies and standardized tests.

Typically, high schools start classes between 7:15 AM to 7:30 AM. That means teens are waking up around 6:30am at the latest. Some say this is like asking older folks who have different sleep cycles and sleep needs, like a teacher, or maybe even you, to wake up at 4:30am each day. The school day currently ends between 2:05 PM and 2:30 PM. Typically elementary schools start later, some as late as 8:30 AM.

So, with all the research supporting a later start time, why don’t middle and high schools start their classes earlier? Here are some of the logistical and practical reasons.

  • Bussing issues: Often high school and elementary students are transported in two or more separate runs. Bus driving is often a second job for people. They need to have completed their driving early so they can get to their other responsibilities.


  • After School Sports and activities: Sports contests and other activities would be forced to start Issues of darkness and weather play havoc with sports schedules currently. A later start time would increase the havoc these issues create.


  • After School Employment: Many high school students have part time jobs. If school ended later they would not be able to start work until later, which could limit their


  • Parenting issues: If elementary school times were altered, these children could be leaving home later and/or arriving home earlier which could present new child care issues for working

Educators know that each year communities throughout the country spend millions on costly new initiatives, technologies, curriculum, new or remodeled buildings, to name a few, many of which have marginal positive impact on student learning. As schools look for an answer to boost student attendance, performance and engagement, making a change in start times for secondary students is an obvious solution. We can no longer be complacent. District needs to read the research, have common sense, and in cooperation with parents, have the courage, to make a change.

Dr. Ralph Kerr is the President of Teaching and Learning Institute. If you would like more information about the Teaching and Learning Institute please contact us at or call us at 585-567-2080.

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