AAP Statement on School Start Times May Be Challenging to Implement

AAP Statement on School Start Times May Be Challenging to Implement 150 150 Katie Brind'Amour, PhD, MS, CHES

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement in August supporting delayed start times for middle and high schools to help combat chronic sleep deprivation. Research indicates adolescents naturally experience a shift in their circadian rhythm that makes sleep difficult prior to 11 PM. But since many middle and high schools begin classes before 8:30 AM, teens often don’t obtain the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night that they need. The AAP states that it strongly supports school districts, education professionals, parents and medical professionals in any efforts to improve teen sleep habits and delay school start times to accommodate their sleep needs.

But such a change in schedule may be harder than it sounds, according to Mark L. Splaingard, MD, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He has been working with school districts in various communities interested in changing to later start times for more than a decade.

The earliest research in the area of later school start times was generated from a few school districts in Minnesota in the 1990s, he says, and supportive research on the benefits of such a change for high school students is increasing. But according to Dr. Splaingard, implementation of later start times for high school students can have subtle consequences for many people.

“Some of the issues include rearranging school bus times with drivers transporting grade school children for school earlier than high school students. Adjustments of high school teachers’ schedules to a later time can be problematic for teachers with after school responsibilities. Sports programs frequently need modification of practice and game schedules,” Dr. Splaingard says. Later start times also impact families that depend on older high schools siblings to be able to be home to help supervise younger children, he says.

“Successful programs require broad community ‘buy-in’ from a variety of groups, including school administrators, teachers unions, bus drivers and parent groups. There may be expenses required for implementation of these programs above and beyond what initially meets the eye,” Dr. Splaingard says. “But it should also be noted that school districts that have taken the step of later start times almost never decide to go back to earlier start times once the logistical problems can be solved.”

Studies suggest that increased sleep time may result in a wide range of positive outcomes for adolescents, such as improved academic performance and a reduced risk of drowsy driving-related car crashes. Dr. Splaingard supports efforts to help teens get more sleep, but cautions readers of the AAP statement from thinking that delaying school start times is a simple fix.

“Later school start times provide the opportunity for high school students to get more sleep at night and may improve overall academic performance,” Dr. Splaingard says. “But whether the opportunity for increased sleep time actually results in more sleep for a particular teenager is multifactorial, so programs need to track progress and goals.”



  1. Adolescent Sleep Working Group, Committee on Adolescence, Council on School Health. School start times for adolescentsPediatrics. 2014 Aug 25, 134(3):642-649.
  2. Crowley SJ, Acebo C, Carskadon MA. Sleep, circadian rhythms and delayed phase in adolescenceSleep Medicine. 2007 Sep. 8(6):602-612.

About the author

Katherine (Katie) Brind’Amour is a freelance medical and health science writer based in Pennsylvania. She has written about nearly every therapeutic area for patients, doctors and the general public. Dr. Brind’Amour specializes in health literacy and patient education. She completed her BS and MS degrees in Biology at Arizona State University and her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy at The Ohio State University. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist and is interested in health promotion via health programs and the communication of medical information.