By Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, and Elinore Boeke
Policymakers in California and Florida have different perspectives on a wide range of issues, but there’s one that unites their legislatures and governors. The extraordinary benefits of healthy school start times transcend party lines and political landscapes.
In 2019, California became the first state to mandate later school start times for middle and high schools. Under the law, public high schools are required to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and middle schools must start after 8 a.m. Florida passed its own school start time legislation in 2023. Beginning in 2026, the new law also requires public schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for high schools and 8 a.m. for middle schools.
Statewide guardrails on how early schools can require adolescents to be in class ensure that a child’s ability to go to school at sleep-friendly hours won’t vary by ZIP code. With these laws, local school districts are able to set their own schedules within healthy parameters for teens.
Because circadian rhythms shift about two to three hours later around puberty, it is difficult for adolescents to thrive physically, mentally and academically when school starts too early. The evidence has been accumulating since Mary Carskadon’s landmark 1990 study, “Patterns of sleep and sleepiness in adolescents.”1 Mountains of studies since then have concluded that when school starts later, teenagers get more sleep — with all the health, safety, and performance benefits being well-rested brings.
The data is so compelling that AASM issued a position statement in 2017.2 The authors wrote:
Based on the available evidence, the AASM calls on primary academic institutions, school boards, parents, and policymakers to raise public awareness and improve education in order to promote a national standard of middle school and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. The AASM also encourages a collaborative and participatory approach among all stakeholders to support school boards as they overcome a variety of real and perceived barriers to the implementation of delayed school start times.
Thanks to public support of organizations like AASM, the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, and the American Association of Sleep Technologists3, recognition of the need for healthy school hours continues to gain steam, with 10 other states recently considering statewide regulations to help ensure sleep-friendly school start times:4 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Some school districts around the country aren’t waiting for statewide rules. The many districts announcing or implementing healthy school hours this year alone include Anchorage School District (AK), Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville, KY), Howard County Public School System (MD), Ridgewood Public Schools (NJ), Albuquerque Public Schools (NM), Lower Merion School District (PA), and Evergreen Public Schools (WA).
The nationwide movement for healthy school hours was spearheaded by Start School Later at its founding in 2011, leading to recognition by the AASM Foundation, when it awarded our organization the 2021 Sleep Champion Award.5 The growing momentum shows the value of the efforts of our many parents, students, and other volunteers working with sleep and circadian researchers, health professionals, educators, and policymakers to address the urgent need for school hours that give students a chance to get healthy sleep.
Much of this success has come thanks to the educational outreach and advocacy by members of the medical community, including pediatricians and sleep medicine professionals.
“I believe that as physicians, we have a unique role in championing important issues that enhance public health, and this advocacy work provides me with a profound sense of purpose, professional fulfillment, and energy,” said AASM member and healthy school start times advocate Joanna Fong-Isariyawongse, MD, FAES, FAAN, associate professor in the department of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
When communities understand the value of sleep and the role of school start times in enabling adolescents to get the sleep their growing brains and bodies need — at the time their bodies need it — attitudes change, and change happens. Many AASM members have become change advocates in their own communities, testifying before school boards, offering presentations to PTAs, reaching out to school district administrators and elected officials, publishing op-eds in local news outlets, posting on social media, and joining or starting local chapters of Start School Later.
“I encourage fellow AASM members to join this cause. Start by connecting with local organizations, engaging in community discussions, and sharing the scientific evidence supporting later school start times and sleep education,” said Dr. Fong-Isariyawongse.
Supporters of healthy school hours know that progress takes persistence, allies, communication and flexibility. It’s gotten us this far. AASM members can help us go farther. It can be done.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, is the co-founder and executive director of Start School Later, Inc.
Elinore Boeke is the communications director of Start School Later, Inc.
This article appeared in volume eight, issue four of Montage magazine.
- Carskadon MA. “Patterns of sleep and sleepiness in adolescents.” Pediatrician, vol. 17, no. 1, 1990, pp. 5-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2315238/
- Watson NF, Martin JL, Wise MS, Carden KA, Kirsch DB, Kristo DA, Malhotra RK, Olson EJ, Ramar K, Rosen IM, Rowley JA, Weaver TE, Chervin RD. Delaying middle school and high school start times promotes student health and performance: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(4):623–625. https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.6558
- Start School Later, Inc. Position statements and resolutions on school start times. https://www.startschoollater.net/position-statements.html
- Start School Later, Inc., Nine States Consider School Start Time Legislation in 2023, May 26, 2023. https://www.startschoollater.net/press-releases/nine-states-consider-school-start-time-legislation-in-2023
- AASM Foundation, Congratulations to the 2021 Sleep Champion Award Recipient, June 28, 2021. https://foundation.aasm.org/congratulations-to-the-2021-sleep-champion-award-recipient/