The American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends Later School Start Times

We asked Boston Public Schools' wellness director to weigh in.

In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement recommending that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to best align with teenagers’ sleep schedules. According to the AAP’s research, starting school later in the day would allow adolescents, who naturally fall asleep best after 11 p.m. and wake up later in the morning, to get an adequate amount of rest.

A report from the organization quotes lead author Judith Owens:

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

But with the new school year already in full swing and yellow buses hitting the streets earlier than ever, the question remains as to whether schools will actually take the AAP’s recommendation into account. Jill Carter, director of health and wellness for Boston Public Schools, says that currently, there are no plans to change school start times, but the research is worthy of consideration.

“We definitely have discussed the idea of sleep and lack of sleep and its impact on health before,” Carter says. “Whenever there’s reports like this that come out, we do try to use the new science to inform where we’re headed around wellness policy consideration.”

Carter says sleep was a focus within the Boston school system before the AAP’s statement came out, particularly with regards to reducing the amount of time students spend on screens when they should be sleeping or studying. “I do think that sleep hygeine, having good sleep habits, are really important for students’ health,” Carter says. “A lot of our curricula try to help students understand why they should limit their screen time, both TV and computers, because we know students that are spending more time on screens are less likely to sleep.”

As for whether start times will change to accommodate the AAP’s data, Carter says the issue is far more complicated than science alone, noting the logistical challenges around transportation and scheduling. Still, she says that the report is something the wellness committee will consider in future planning. “We should be looking at the science, trying to raise awareness of the science, and then looking for, where are the ways that we could consider this,” she says. “[It’s] our job to review and to consider how we should inform policy by the science.”