Parents of high school kids can vouch just how tough it is to wake them up for class. But while it might just seem like groggy angst, it’s actually much more than that. Scientific research has shown that teens need more sleep and that their biological rhythms are much later than that of adults. Why does it matter? Because in much of the country, high school starts way too early. And it’s actually harming the health of American teenagers. The country’s average high school start time is way too early—scientifically, not just anecdotally, and a new map highlights just how widespread the problem is.
A Reddit user u/1ew looked at data from the National Center for Education Statistics compiled between 2017 and 2018 and looked at the average high school start times from around the country. Then, taking that information, u/1ew put it into an easy-to-read map form. And what we see is school starts way earlier than we thought in most states, and much earlier than what is actually healthy for teens.
The map shows that students in Louisiana have the earliest school start time of 7:30 a.m. A few states are next up on the wake-up time of 7:36 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., including Nevada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Most of the states across the country had high school start times between 7:45 a.m. and 8:05 a.m., which are the mid-orange colors on the map. Only three states – Alaska, District of Columbia, and South Carolina – have start times at or after 8:30 a.m.
What makes this interesting or significant for parents is, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this means nearly every state, apart from Alaska, the District of Columbia, and South Carolina, have school start times that are way too early for growing high school students.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated recommendations that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. This is important to ensure students have “the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need, but most American adolescents start school too early.”
The harms of early school start time cannot be overstated: they are linked to improve physical and mental health, keep teen drivers safe on the road — because drowsy driving is unsafe — academic performance in school, and overall quality of life. In other words, the fact that schools start this late is really bad for teenagers, and while pediatricians sound the alarm, kids are still struggling to make it through their days.
According to the AAP’s 2014 School Health Policies and Practices study, 93 percent of high schools in the U.S. started before 8:30 a.m., corroborating the map u/1ew put together.
So, if you’re struggling to get your teen to wake up on time for school, you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends parents advocate for later school start times. It also recommends setting a regular bedtime and waketime schedule, dim the lights before it’s time to sleep, and limiting any electronics an hour or so before bed as ways to encourage better sleep for teens.