WSSD Panther

*Starting School Later Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What is the rationale for exploring later school start times for the high school? 

    A: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control, Society of Pediatric Nurses, National Association of School Nurses, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and National Sleep Foundation, adolescents require 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night for optimum health. Sleep experts recommend natural sleep times of 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. for adolescents, yet many middle- and high-school students must wake by 6 a.m. to reach school on time.

    Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a host of medical, mental health, safety and behavioral issues:

    • Depression and anxiety (Bates, 2002; Chorney et al, 2008; Gibson et al, 2006; Kahn, 2006)
    • Obesity (Mitchell et al, 2013; Must and Parisi, 2009; Taheri et al, 2004), increased insulin resistance (Mathews et al, 2012) and poor dietary choices (Hale, 2013)
    • Increased automobile accidents (Danner and Phillips, 2008; NCSDR, 1997; Wahlstrom, 2014)
    • Increased risk-taking and unsafe behaviors (O’Brien, 2005)
    • Increased sports injuries (Milewski et al, 2012)
    • Declines in academic performance (Kahn et al, 1989; Wahlstrom, 2014), attention and problem solving (Gibson et al, 2006; Kilgore et al, 2007)
    • Suicide (Bernert and Joiner, 2007)


    Q: How do we know teenagers aren't getting enough sleep?

    A: A National Sleep Foundation Poll found 87% of U.S. high school students were getting less than the recommended hours of sleep on school nights.

    The CDC's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 75.4% of U.S. high school students get fewer than 8 hours of sleep on school nights, and 43% get 6 or fewer hours. This is an increase from the 2011, 2013 and 2015 surveys.


    Q: Why are adolescents not getting enough sleep?

    A: During adolescence, circadian rhythms are delayed, making it extremely difficult for teens to fall asleep prior to 11 p.m. and wake up prior to 8 a.m. Although a teenager's sleep quality can be made worse by excessive academic/extra-curricular demands, poor sleep hygiene, or misuse of technology at bed-time, it is largely driven by a universal delay in the body’s sleep clock during adolescence. Early school hours play a significant role as they force teens to wake up before they have achieved the minimum amount of sleep required for optimum health and performance.


    Q: Are we sure sleep deprivation is a concern for Strath Haven Middle and High School students?

    Yes. According to the Teen Sleep Habits Survey, administered to WSSD students, grades 8-12 in Fall of 2019 (Completed by nearly 1150 students-approximately 76%) 53% of the students indicated that they feel groggy or tired several days a week; 61% believe that in general, they do not get enough sleep, and 67% believe that, based on personal needs, the best time for school to start is between 8:00 – 9:00 am. More data was shared at the November 11, 2019 School Board Meeting.


    Q: What are the effects of insufficient sleep?

    • Effects on health include: increases in depressed mood, anxiety, suicidal ideation, weight gain, obesity, substance use and abuse as well as decreased emotional regulation
    • Effects on safety include: increases in motor vehicle accidents, athletic injuries, risk-taking behaviors and physical fights/bullying
    • Effects on performance include: decreased concentration, problem-solving ability and academic performance, along with poorer cognitive efficiency and memory


    Q: How much sleep does my child need?

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine the following ranges are recommended:

    • Children 3 to 5 years of age - 10-13 hours
    • Children 6 to 12 years of age - 9-12 hours
    • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age - 8-10 hours


    Q: What is the prevailing argument to change school start times?

    A: It is well established that sleep deprivation is known to compromise teenagers’ health, safety, and performance. ​The American Academy of Pediatrics (Adolescent Sleep Working Group, 2014), American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Watson et al., 2017), and American Medical Association recognize the disconnect between school start times and most school schedules and recommend a high school start time of ​8:30 a.m. or later.

    Pushing start times back helps to enable students to reach 2 critical sleep goals:

    1) achieve the adequate amount of sleep that they need; and

    2) to sleep during a time that is more in sync with their biology, namely, their delayed circadian rhythm. 

    As far as circadian rhythms and natural brain chemistry is concerned, waking a high school student up at 6am is about the same as waking an adult up at 4am. As a result, teens suffer from a form of circadian dysrhythmia known as “social jet-lag” during their school week. 


    Q: Will later start times disrupt extracurricular activities?

    A: Schools that have adopted later start times have found extracurricular activity participation remains largely unchanged. Athletics Directors report that the logistics work out better than anticipated, and research confirms that students experience far fewer sports injuries when well-rested.


    Q: Is there evidence that delaying school start times is associated with positive outcomes?

    A: Yes. In the districts that have changed to a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, students show:

    • Increased sleep duration
    • Less sleepiness
    • Improved attendance
    • Less tardiness
    • Less falling asleep in class
    • Fewer depressive symptoms
    • Decreased health center visits
    • Fewer motor vehicle crashes
    • Though data is limited, some evidence of increase in GPAs and SATs (with no adverse impact on academics)


    Q: With a later school start time for high school, will students just stay up later at night?

    A: Contrary to some beliefs and expectations, there is evidence that students will obtain more sleep when school start time is shifted later. When the Seattle School District made the switch from early to later start times, researchers studied students before the change happened and after.  They found students got an average of 34 minutes of extra sleep per night after delaying the start time by 55 minutes to 8:45 am.  That amount of additional sleep was also correlated with the students achieving grades that were 4.5 percent higher.  (Dunster, de la Iglesia, et al., 2018).

    This happens because their bedtime remains largely unchanged and total sleep time increases with the additional time in the morning. In addition to the amount of sleep, the timing of sleep is important. Students benefit immensely when they sleep at a time that is in line with their circadian rhythm.


    Q: Have other communities changed their school start times?

    A: In Southeastern Pennsylvania, four area districts have adopted later start times: Unionville-Chaddsford, Tredyffrin/Easttown, Radnor Township, Phoenixville Area.  In the rest of Pennsylvania, Blue Ridge, State College Area, Erie, Seneca Valley, Quaker Valley, Lake-Lehman, Burrell and Mechanicsburg school districts have adopted later start times.  In addition, several districts are publicly considering the change including Centennial, Central Bucks, East Penn, Lower Merion, Owen J Roberts, Springfield Township, Upper Dublin and West Chester school districts.  Some colleges have also begun to alter schedules due to sleep research, starting the first classes at 8:30 a.m. or later.


    Q: What are the challenges associated with moving secondary start times back?

     A. Although this is not a full list, some of the primary challenges include:

    • The possible addition of school buses. Transportation costs could escalate because we must provide transportation to our students as well as students in the non-public schools within our district that may not be on the same schedule as our schools.
    • Scheduling secondary after-school sports and activities will require careful consideration although an increasing number of school districts in our area are accommodating and/or moving to later start times.
    • Staff and parents may need to adjust day care management and other schedules.
    • Students may need to adjust their working hours for after-school jobs.


    Q: What can WSSD do to help support better sleep hygiene for students?

    A: WSSD supports community programming around student sleep health, including:

    • Encouraging families to set electronic curfews
    • Encouraging families to limit substances, such as caffeine, that can interfere with adequate sleep quality and quantity
    • Encouraging families to make sleep a priority health behavior
    • Encouraging families to keep a consistent sleep-wake cycle routine
    • Encouraging families to evaluate and, where possible, modify potentially excessive academic and extra-curricular demands
    • Educating community on general sleep health strategies
    • Continuing to integrate sleep health into school instruction


    *A special thank you to Brad Wolgast for his efforts in providing the building blocks and research for the WSSD Sleep & School Start Times FAQ's.

    Reference List for WSSD Sleep & School Start Times FAQ’s


    • Bates, J. E., Viken, R. J., Alexander, D. B., Beyers, J., & Stockton, L. (2002). Sleep and adjustment in preschool children: Sleep diary reports by mothers relate to behavior reports by teachers. Child development73(1), 62-75.
    • Bernert, R. A., & Joiner, T. E. (2007). Sleep disturbances and suicide risk: a review of the literature. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment3(6), 735.
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2011. MMWR Surveill. Summ. 61 (SS-4), 1–162.
    • Chorney DB, Detweiler MF,  Morris TL,  Kuhn BR. The interplay of sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression in children, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2008, vol. 33 4(pg. 339-348)
    • Danner, F., & Phillips, B. (2008). Adolescent sleep, school start times, and teen motor vehicle crashes. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine4(06), 533-535.
    • Dunster, G. P., de la Iglesia, L., Ben-Hamo, M., Nave, C., Fleischer, J. G., Panda, S., & Horacio, O. (2018). Sleepmore in Seattle: Later school start times are associated with more sleep and better performance in high school students. Science advances4(12), eaau6200.
    • Gibson, E. S., Powles, A. P., Thabane, L., O'Brien, S., Molnar, D. S., Trajanovic, N., ... & Chilcott-Tanser, L. (2006). " Sleepiness" is serious in adolescence: Two surveys of 3235 Canadian students. BMC public health6(1), 116.
    • Hale, L., Hill, T. D., Friedman, E., Nieto, F. J., Galvao, L. W., Engelman, C. D., ... & Peppard, P. E. (2013). Perceived neighborhood quality, sleep quality, and health status: evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. Social Science & Medicine79, 16-22.
    • Hysing, M., Sivertsen, B., Stormark, K. M., Elgen, I., & Lundervold, A. J. (2008). Sleep in children with chronic illness, and the relation to emotional and behavioral problems—a population-based study. Journal of Pediatric Psychology34(6), 665-670.
    • Kahn, A., Van de Merckt, C., Rebuffat, E., Mozin, M. J., Sottiaux, M., Blum, D., & Hennart, P. (1989). Sleep problems in healthy preadolescents. Pediatrics84(3), 542-546.
    • Kahn-Greene, E. T., Killgore, D. B., Kamimori, G. H., Balkin, T. J., & Killgore, W. D. (2007). The effects of sleep deprivation on symptoms of psychopathology in healthy adults. Sleep medicine8(3), 215-221.
    • Kilgore, C., Richter, R. R., Siler, W. L., & Sayre-Stanhope, D. (2008). Psychosocial Issues in Primary Care Physician Assistant Practice: A Descriptive Study. Journal of Physician Assistant Education (Physician Assistant Education Association)19(4).
    • Milewski, M. D. (2012, October). Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of injury in adolescent athletes. In 2012 AAP National Conference and Exhibition. American Academy of Pediatrics.
    • Matthews, K. A., Dahl, R. E., Owens, J. F., Lee, L., & Hall, M. (2012). Sleep duration and insulin resistance in healthy black and white adolescents. Sleep35(10), 1353-1358.
    • Mitchell, J. A., Rodriguez, D., Schmitz, K. H., & Audrain-McGovern, J. (2013). Sleep duration and adolescent obesity. Pediatrics131(5), e1428-e1434.
    • Must, A., & Parisi, S. M. (2009). Sedentary behavior and sleep: paradoxical effects in association with childhood obesity. International journal of obesity33(S1), S82.
    • National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll: Sleep in the modern family. (2014).
    • NCSDR/NHTSA Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue. Drowsy driving and automobile crashes. Washington: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration; 1997.
    • O'Brien, E. M., & Mindell, J. A. (2005). Sleep and risk-taking behavior in adolescents. Behavioral sleep medicine3(3), 113-133.
    • School start times for Adolescents. (2014). Adolescent Sleep working group, committee on adolescence, council on school health, Pediatrics, 134 (3), 642-649.
    • Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS medicine1(3), e62.
    • Wahlstrom, K., Dretzke, B., Gordon, M., Peterson, K., Edwards, K., & Gdula, J. (2014). Examining the impact of later high school start times on the health and academic performance of high school students: a multi-site study.
    • Watson, N. F., Martin, J. L., Wise, M. S., Carden, K. A., Kirsch, D. B., Kristo, D. A., ... & Rowley, J. A. (2017). Delaying middle school and high school start times promotes student health and performance: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine13(04), 623-625.
    • Wheaton, A. G. (2016). Sleep duration and injury-related risk behaviors among high school students—United States, 2007–2013.  Morbidity and mortality weekly report65.
Last Modified on March 3, 2020