Using later school start times has become a topic of discussion and reform in many states due to growing evidence supporting the benefits of later start times for adolescents.
Research has shown that adolescents tend to have a natural shift in their sleep-wake cycle, often referred to as a “delayed sleep phase.” This means that they may naturally stay up later and have difficulty waking up early in the morning. Starting school later aligns with their sleep patterns and allows for more restorative sleep.
Studies have indicated that later school start times can lead to improved academic performance. Students who get more sleep are better able to concentrate, retain information, and perform well on tests. Adolescents who get adequate sleep are less likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Later start times can contribute to better emotional well-being.
Delaying the start of the school day can also reduce absenteeism. Students are more likely to attend school regularly when they are well-rested. Also, fatigue resulting from early school start times has been linked to an increased risk of risky behaviors in adolescents, such as substance abuse and reckless driving. Later start times can help mitigate these risks.
Later school start times can also be more convenient for working parents who may struggle with early school drop-off schedules. Dark mornings during the winter months can pose safety concerns for students commuting to school. Starting school later can mean more daylight hours during the morning commute.
While the benefits of later school start times are well-documented, implementing such changes can be complex. It may require adjustments to transportation schedules, extracurricular activities, and family routines.
California and Florida have become the first states to require later public school start times, a response to the research showing significant advantages for high school students who can get more sleep by beginning their day at 8:30 a.m. or later.
As we noted, these changes have ripple effects — upended bus schedules, later starts for extracurriculars and new schedules for teachers and staff — making many other states and localities hesitant to change.
California’s first-in-the-nation law, which requires that high school classes start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools not before 8 a.m., took effect last school year. Florida overwhelmingly passed a law this year with similar requirements, which schools must meet by July 2026.
But similar efforts in other states have stalled or been reduced to legislation calling for studies of the issue, in the face of opposition from local school districts worried about budgets and parents concerned about upending family schedules. Lawmakers in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Texas all had bills up this year, according to Start School Later, an advocacy group that tracks the bills. But most didn’t pass; Maine, Maryland and Indiana approved studies, the group said.