Research Review: Later School Start Times Better for Teen Health and Learning

Research Review: Later School Start Times Better for Teen Health and Learning

Research Review: Later School Start Times Better for Teen Health and Learning

Parents and teachers have known for a long time that students have a hard time getting up and going early in the morning.  This can be very problematic, as school start times generally require that students wake earlier the older they get.  There is a significant amount of research that has demonstrated the backwards approach we have to start times in school, with studies showing that older students function better when they start school later.

A new study by Kelley et al. (2015) adds to this research, concluding that later start times for older students help protect them from sleep deprivation that is connected to many mental and physical health problems.

This study, conducted at the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Nevada found that the traditional school start times at the secondary school and college levels are detrimental to student learning and health.  There is a significant shift in circadian rhythms during adolescence that makes this more of a concern for teens than people in other age groups.  During these years there is a sleep shift that pushes their circadian rhythms 3 hours later, causing them to function best when they fall asleep later and wake later in the mornings.  Based on an analysis of 30 years of research on sleep medicine and neuroscience, the study authors recommend that school start times should be 8:30 or later for 10 year old students; 10:00 or later for 16 year old students; and 11:00 or later for 18 year old students.

This study is in alignment with new US Department of Health and Department of Education recommendations to move school start times later in the high school years.  The study authors conclude that, “children are currently placed at an enormous disadvantage by being forced to keep to inappropriate education times.”  What will it take for school systems to actually take notice of these research-based recommendations and implement this important evidence-based change?


Kelley, P., Lockley, S.W., Foster, R.G., & Kelley, J. (2015). Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later’. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(2), 210-226.

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