Survey finds U.S. schools start ‘too early’

The national average start time for middle and high school is 8:00am. Masconomet Regional High School starts at 7:35am. 80% of schools across the country start later than Masconomet and 55% of schools in Massachusetts start later than Masconomet. Why does start time matter so much?

For this study, Anne Wheaton and her colleagues looked at the start times of an estimated 39,700 U.S. public schools during the 2011-2012 school year. The average start time was 8:03 a.m., they reported August 7, 2015 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That’s too early, Wheaton says. Tweens and teens are experiencing shifts in their natural sleep cycles. Their bodies’ inner “clocks” make it hard for them to go to bed before 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. But to get to school on time, they have to wake up as early as 5:30 a.m. A first school bell just after 8 a.m. slices into the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep tweens and teens need to be healthy and perform at their best, she says. “We’re fighting biology.”

Indeed, Wheaton’s colleagues at CDC published a major analysis in Pediatrics last year about all of the problems teens can experience if they get too little sleep. Janet Croft of CDC (a coauthor on the new paper, as well) concluded: U.S. schools “start at such an early time that most teens are essentially brain dead when they go to these early classes.” As a result, she says, many of them start their day as “walking zombies.”

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