Maybe Teens Should Sleep Later

Unfortunately, if we’d like our teens to get up earlier, we may be out of luck. Teens may be biologically wired to fall asleep later and wake up later.

More sleep researchers and physician’s groups are now calling for later school times to improve teen health and academic performance.

At the start of puberty, teenagers sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at night.  This makes going to sleep prior to 11 p.m. difficult.

To accommodate teenagers natural sleep cycles, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new policy statement recommending  that schools have a start time of 8:30 AM or later. This school start time would allow adolescent students the opportunity to get the recommended amount of sleep on school nights: about 8.5 to 9.5 hours.

Too little sleep is associated with health risks for high school students such as being overweight, poor academic performance, drinking alcohol and using drugs.  It has also been shown to be increasing common in students.

Studies show that teens who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight, suffering from depression, being involved in an automobile accident, and have better grades.  Delaying early school times could help them get the sleep they need for better health.


Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights.

According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report, about 2 out of 3 high school student do not get enough sleep.

Sufficient sleep can be difficult for teens who naturally fall asleep around 11 p.m. and have a school start time of 7:30 a.m.

Fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 AM start time or later during the 2011-2012 school year, according to data published today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Too-early start times can keep students from getting the sleep they need for health, safety, and academic success, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

CDC and U.S. Department of Education researchers reviewed data from the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey of nearly 40,000 public middle, high, and combined schools to determine school start times.

Key findings:

  • 42 states reported that 75-100 percent of the public schools in their respective states started before 8:30 AM.
  • The average start time was 8:03 AM.
  • The percentage of schools with start times of 8:30 AM or later varied greatly by state. No schools in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming started at 8:30 AM or later; more than 75 percent of schools in Alaska and North Dakota started at 8:30 AM or later.

What can you do to help your teenager get to bed earlier? These intervention may seem simple and common sense, but they are also shown to work.

-Have consistent bed and wake times
-Decrease use of devices and television in the bedroom
-Limit soda or caffeine intake by teenagers

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In good health,

J Lee Jenkins, MD


J Lee Jenkins, MD, MSc, FACEP is a practicing board-certified emergency physician and researcher in emergency public health. She can also be found on twitter ( and Facebook (J Lee Jenkins MD).

Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to provide personal medical advice. As always, please consult with your personal doctor prior to making any changes to your health regimen.


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