The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

You won’t believe how early school starts in some states

Bored and Tired students during lesson. (Credit: istock)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on Thursday about when the school day typically starts for the nation's public middle and high school students. As my colleague Emma Brown writes, too many schools are starting too early, which gives rise to a whole host of public health concerns:

Five out of every six middle schools and high schools nationwide start classes earlier than 8:30 a.m., making it difficult for teens to get the sleep they need to be healthy... The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools start later than 8:30 a.m. to help teens avoid becoming chronically sleep-deprived and exhausted.

Research has shown that sleep-deprived teens are more likely to be overweight and depressed, they do poorer in school, and they're more likely to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. But a lot of the nation's school districts make kids show up for class at really early hours. The CDC reported on the average school start times for schools in all 50 states. Here's what that looks like:

In only two states -- Alaska and North Dakota -- does the average school start time meet or exceed the AAP's 8:30 recommendation. Twenty one states' school bells ring before 8 AM on average. The earliest is Louisiana, where the average start time is 7:40 a.m.. In a handful of states, not a single school meets or exceeds the 8:30 a.m. standard.

The CDC recommends that adolescents get at least nine hours of sleep each night. Nine hours! Doesn't that sound great? They need all that extra sleep to support their still-developing brains. But surveys consistently show that only about eight or nine percent of teens are getting that much sleep. Because teens' brains are naturally wired to keep them up past 11 p.m. or so, starting the school day later is essentially a requirement for allowing most of them to get adequate sleep.

But many school districts are reluctant to change their schedules. All told, only 18 percent of them were meeting the AAP's recommendation as of 2012, according to the CDC.