Later School Start Times May Improve Academic Performance

Being late is generally frowned upon—especially in relation to education. Yet many students find it difficult to get to school in the morning due to the early start times. But maybe, rather than penalizing students for arriving late, schools should start instituting later start times, as some studies conclude that would improve student performance.

According to many studies, later high school start times could potentially influence more than the sleep quality of students; it may result in higher attendance, better performance, and, in turn, better grades and higher graduation rates.

Later School Start Times Boost Graduation Rates

School boards vary across the country, yet based on some new findings, in relation to school start times, it appears that there’s a “sweet spot” that may influence overall attendance and educational success.

For years, it’s been well-established that sleep is critical for development, influencing psychological and behavioral outcomes, which impacts academic achievement. Backing previous research, this recent study, published on in the Sleep Health journal, has found that when high schools start at 8:30 AM or later, attendance and graduation rates improve.

After analyzing 30,000 students from 29 high schools across a total of seven states over the course of two years, the researchers concluded that delayed start times led to positive results. While focusing on graduation rates, for instance, before the delayed start time was implemented, 79 percent of students completed high school—shifting to an impressive 88 percent following the alternative start time.

Of course, these are encouraging results for parents, but when looking at the bigger picture, it’s also beneficial for society as a whole. With more young adults graduating, there are more opportunities available to them, reducing their risk of hardship and, in some cases, incarceration.

Grades and Sleep Quality Also Improved

The link between early start times and reduced success is not overly complex. Within low socioeconomic areas, if a student misses the bus, they’re less likely to go to school. Once they miss a few classes, they have already fallen behind and will be less likely to keep up with their peers.

The little bit of additional time in the morning could make the difference—ensuring that students get to school on time and continue to work toward their education. Although transportation is often a factor, sleep quality cannot be ignored. If students achieve optimal sleep, they are not only more prone to get up and get ready for school but also remain more focused throughout the day.

This has been documented across a number of studies in recent years, including a 2016 study conducted by the University of Minnesota. In this case, researchers observed 9,395 students across eight high schools who chose later start times ranging from 8 AM to 8:55 AM.

What they found was that the later start times not only improved tardiness and absences, but those who slept eight or more hours were less likely to report poor mood and symptoms of depression. Incredibly, within the districts studied, after changing to a later start time, the number of car crashes was reduced by 13 percent.

It was also found that when start times were 8:55 AM, in comparison to a start time between 8 AM and 8:30 AM, grade point averages improved in all first-period core courses (English, social studies, science, and math), across all semesters in all grades. Overall, it was concluded that the later the start, the greater the academic benefits.

Based on what researchers understand about human development and biological changes during adolescence, teenagers are often unable to fall asleep early and remain in somewhat of a “sleep phase” until approximately 8 AM. This shift in the circadian rhythm of teenagers is based on hormonal factors during puberty.

What Parents Can Do

If you’re a parent whose child is currently attending high school, be sure to get involved, providing positive recommendations based on related research. Later start times have already benefited students across the country. Could this change also influence the outcome of your child’s education?

If you think later start times could improve your child’s academic performance, you may want to consider alternative school options. Online schools offer flexible schedules and since virtual learning eliminates the need to commute to school, students have more time to fit sleep into their busy schedules! Visit to learn more about online schools in your state.

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