Should American High Schools Start Later? 


Art Credits to Srishti Jain!

Anya Wang '26

School start times may seem like a simple matter. The bell rings, students file in, and class begins, right? But there is a lot of debate surrounding the start times of American high schools. Wouldn’t delaying school start times help students get the sleep that they severely lack? Or would changing the schedule schools have run by for decades cause a wave of issues in scheduling and timing? Do American high schools start too early, or are their current start times the best solution to a problem with no perfect solution?

Students Need Sleep 

American high school students greatly lack sleep as a result of extremely early school start times.  In fact, according to a survey conducted by the CDC (the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) two-thirds of American high school students do not get enough sleep each night [2]. Common knowledge clearly asserts that leep is essential: the Sleep Foundation states that sleep is necessary “to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.” As schools are constantly trying to garner higher levels of knowledge for their students, helping students regain sleep seems to be the best solution. 

Additionally, the consequences of sleep deprivation are drastic, including issues in physical health, mental well-being, and behavior. For example, lacking sleep puts students at increased risks for problems such as “obesity, diabetes, [and] injuries” [1]. Those who are sleep deprived are also more likely to perform poorly in school, and often show signs of “irritability and fatigue” in class [3]. According to the Columbia University of Psychiatry, not getting enough sleep can also increase risks for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts [2]. A popular counter assertion is that students must become more responsible and sleep earlier. However, the Sleep Foundation states that around the time of puberty, a large part of which occurs in high school, teens experience a biological phenomenon called a “phase delay,” which causes the body’s “internal clock to shift by up to two hours” [3]. This two-hour shift results in the average teenager not being able to “fall asleep until 11:00 am” and performing best “waking up at 8:00 am or even later” [3]. Clearly, delayed start times even serve the purpose of being catered towards students’ circadian rhythms. 

But…there’s only so much time in the day

Although delayed start times have their benefits, there are many reasons against the concept as well. For starters, delaying school start times could potentially cause transportation conflicts. Pushing school start times later into the day propels the transportation needed for school into the work rush-hours, which could intensify traffic congestion and increase transportation accidents. It may also be difficult for school buses to manage later high school start times as generally,  school districts typically stagger their bus operations, with high school students being served first, followed by middle and elementary students. If high schools were to start later, would school districts still be able to use their school buses in this money-saving, staggered manner? Delaying school start times could disrupt transportation and cause grave inconveniences for parents, students, and teachers alike. 

Another reason why school start times shouldn’t be delayed is because it won’t necessarily solve the sleep issue of students. Even if school start times are delayed, the length of a school day won’t be changed, meaning that schools will also end later than before. They’ll also have the same amount of homework and after school activities. Students will even find themselves waking up later, but they will sleep later, which doesn’t aid in gaining sleep. Wouldn’t that make later school start times completely unnecessary?


However complicated the issue of school start times may be, there are still things that can be done to mitigate its effects, particularly sleep deprivation. Being productive and managing time well can help prevent sleep deprivation, even with extremely early school start times. According to the Sleep Foundation, another solution to this issue could be to delay school start times to 8:30 [3]. As the current national average for high school start times is 8:00 am [4], a small change of just thirty minutes from the average wouldn’t disrupt schedules too much, and for many students, even just thirty minutes of extra sleep can be priceless. 

Because of the various arguments of the pros and cons of delayed school start times, this is a critical issue that still remains unsolved. [1] [2] [3] [4]