How’s this for a rude awakening?

The average adolescent in the U.S. is “chronically sleep deprived and pathologically tired.”

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That’s according to a 2014 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which describes an “epidemic” of sleep deprivation among America’s middle and high school students. Roughly 70 percent of U.S. teenagers don’t get anywhere near the recommended nightly minimum of 8.5 hours each night.

Such deprivation, sleep researchers argue, can affect academic performance and contribute to the prevalence of serious health problems like depression, obesity and car crashes — the number one killer of teens in the U.S.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, lead author of the AAP’s “School Start Times for Adolescents” report, which recommends that middle and high schools push back start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.

“Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn,” she writes. Doing so would align to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles — or circadian rhythms —  shift up to two hours later when puberty begins. For more on this, check out our totally energizing Above the Noise video (better than a shot of espresso, I promise).

The APP’s recommendation, supported by a growing number of other public health groups, is the basis for new California legislation that would mandate publicly funded middle and high schools throughout the state to push back their school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.

The bill — SB 328 — which already passed in the state Senate and now heads to the Assembly, is the first statewide bill of its kind in the country. Districts would have until July 2020 to adjust their schedules. Most would presumably end the school day later.

If it passes, the bill would delay the start of first period for the more than 3 million middle and high school students in California, where schools now abide by a hodgepodge of start times. The average high school starts at 8:07 a.m., as compared to the national average of 8:03 a.m., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have the science that says this is a public health issue and a public health crisis, ” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino a Democrat representing the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, who introduced the bill earlier this year.

“The morning sleep is the most therapeutic, healthy sleep for teenagers,” he told KQED’s Forum. “And what we do as a society, we wake them up in the middle of that healthy sleep and send them to school too early when they’re sleep deprived.”

The roughly 400 school districts nationwide that have already pushed back their start times have seen overwhelmingly positive results, he said, with boosts in academic performance, attendance and graduation rates, and a decrease in car accidents and suicide attempts.

The bill, though, faces strong opposition, particularly among many districts, school boards and even teachers who argue these decisions should be made at a local level, given the diverse needs of each community. The delayed schedule would likely lead to lengthy renegotiations with teacher unions and could require additional funding for the necessary changes in bus transportation.

Parents have also raised concerns that later start times will cause serious disruptions, making it harder to drop off kids in the morning before work. And later school dismissal times, they add, could disrupt afterschool sports activities, pushing practices even later into the evening.

“We oppose this bill because it imposes a one-size-fits-all approach that we don’t actually think will result in kids getting more sleep,” said Nancy Chaires Espinoza, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association, which opposes the measure.

Many school districts have determined that a better way of increasing the amount of sleep students get is to minimize their homework load so they can go to bed earlier, Espinoza said in an interview on WBUR’s Here and Now.

“That’s why school times should be a local decision informed by parents and teachers, those who know the students and the community best,” she added. “And unfortunately this bill would negate the entire public decision-making process. And we just don’t think that’s the best way to do right by kids.”

But Portantino counters that this argument flies in the face of basic biology: Most teenagers, he argues, are simply hardwired to stay up late, until at least 11 p.m.

“All the arguments against it are adult-based arguments, not kid-based arguments,” he added.

Does Your School Start Too Early in the Morning? (with Lesson Plan) 31 August,2017Matthew Green

  • lausdteacher

    No, high school does not start too early. My evidence? One year, my school district started summer school 1 hour later and guess what? Kids were still an hour late- they came at 10 instead of 9 am. On the other hand, this year, I worked summer school at a different school in my district .Starting time: 8:30 am and the kids were on time. The difference: The latter school was better run and less permissive.

    All the above info is bs. When I talk to the kids they admit they have jobs that they work late at. The other day, a student who was an hour late admitted he worked at a restaurant until 1 am then ordered food from some place and stayed up until 3 am. Kids who eat properly and exercise and who make school a priority are not hard -wired to stay up until 11 pm. That’s bogus. Glad I wasn’t coddled as a kid. We started at 7:45 am and guess what? My sister, brother and I are all college grads. Didn’t come from a rich family either.

    People who are not teachers need to stop meddling in education policy. This “epidemic” of sleep deprivation is due to video gaming, drugs and all manner of other things not the school start time.

    You know who doesn’t get enough sleep? Teachers, and we still manage to get to school early. Stop the nanny state.

    • tweesdad

      You do realize that your anecdotes are not “evidence”, don’t you? Even if they were, you had students tell you they were working evening jobs, and yet you surmise that “video gaming, drugs, …” are keeping them up late. A little sanctimonious, perhaps?

      And finally you concede that teachers are not getting enough sleep – sounds like another good case for later start times! (And then some teachers who are not early morning people can be hired, increasing the pool from which excellent ones can be drawn.)

  • tweesdad

    Regardless of what biology tells us, iit will be an uphill battle to change to a later start time.

    After decades of early starts, school district staff and teachers are mostly “morning people” who like to get off work before 3pm. Those who work better with a later start to the day (like the teens themselves) generally burn out or look for work elsewhere.

    In my experience, early-morning people seem to be less tolerant – and feel morally superior to – late starters, even those who put in the same work. Also the after-school program industry, which can involve big $$$, is going to aggressively defend the status quo.

    • lausdteacher

      We don’t “like to get off work before 3 pm,” we have hours of work to do nightly at home, thus being stuck in rush hour traffic would make it that much worse. In addition, I am not a “morning person” I just set my alarm for 5 am to get to work an hour early. Kids need to learn self -discipline.
      I am not “morally superior,” I am simply self disciplined. That doesn’t make me morally superior, it just makes me self-disciplined. I notice any talk of personal responsibility for students- the real elephant in the room- is usually met with attacks on teachers but you know what? We went through a “War on Teachers” (especially veteran teachers) from 2006-2013 and we aren’t going back and we will assert our expertise and smack down those who know little to nothing about teaching, students and school schedules. You know where the “experts” who wanted to use test scores to judge teachers and lengthen the school day got us? 500,000 fewer public school teachers today than before the recession. Now no one wants to go into teaching and your are stuck with veterans who will no longer cower in front of “experts.” We’re done.

      “After school program industry?” You’re kidding right? Those run largely on grants and would still continue to run, simply an hour later. School is from 8-3 or 8:30 to 3:20. Deal with it. In California, the “status quo” as so many eduformers who never ever taught in the classroom are fond of saying got us generations of nurses, engineers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and more. I’ve had low income students work their tails off to make it to college. It can be done. The status quo is fine. It’s individuals who need to make better choices and have more self-discipline. Kids, get up on time, my low income AP students did it and so can you.

  • Teresa E Mobley

    I would agree that the biggest reason things won’t change is that people don’t like change. This is true of just about everything. I don’t necessarily think teachers and admins are morally superior morning people. I think they fall into the pattern of not liking change, trying to void disruption, and perhaps worry about kids taking bus routes at night. Additionally, perhaps many adults are thinking about rush hour. How would parents be able to drop kids off BEFORE work? In order for the science of sleep to play itself out, there has to be a huge shift in thinking, scheduling, and more.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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