U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Forum on Adolescence; Graham MG, editor. Sleep Needs, Patterns, and Difficulties of Adolescents: Summary of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.

Cover of Sleep Needs, Patterns, and Difficulties of Adolescents

Sleep Needs, Patterns, and Difficulties of Adolescents: Summary of a Workshop.

Show details


Among the responses proposed to alleviate adolescent sleep problems, some school districts have considered changing their school starting times. Workshop participants learned of research in the Minneapolis metropolitan area on attitudes toward such a change and preliminary findings from schools that actually implemented later starting times. During the 1996-1997 school year in Edina, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis), the high school day shifted from a 7:20 a.m. start to 8:30. In the following school year the Minneapolis Public Schools changed the starting time from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. at seven of its high schools. Kyla Wahlstrom, associate director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement of the University of Minnesota, reviewed early findings from studies of these schools as well as data collected in surveys and focus groups involving key stakeholders, including students, teachers, and parents (Wahlstrom and Freeman, 1997; Kubow et al., 1999).

The schools studied represent different socioeconomic groups and levels of diversity among student populations. In Minneapolis the schools were in an urban, low-income setting with 12,000 students, including a large immigrant population, where half of the students fail to complete high school. Suburban Edina, in contrast, has high socioeconomic levels and about 1,800 high school students. In Edina, enrollment is stable and most students go on to college.

Early findings from studies in these Minnesota schools showed that a majority of teachers reported that a greater number of students were more alert during the first two school periods than they had been with an earlier start time. Slightly more than half said they saw fewer students sleeping at their desks. In Minneapolis, teachers were evenly divided about whether student behavior improved. Edina teachers indicated markedly improved student behavior. School nurses and counselors also reported fewer students seeking help for physical complaints or stress. In Minneapolis schools, both teachers and students reported a drop in the number of students involved in extracurricular activities; later schedules also posed difficulties for some students who worked after school. Edina students and teachers saw no significant change in after-school activities, including work. Wahlstrom emphasized that these were early findings and that both additional data and further analysis are needed on the effects of changes in school starting times (Wahlstrom, 1999).

Wahlstrom also summarized key results from surveys conducted with more than 7,000 students in three Minnesota school districts, using the Brown University School Sleep Habits Survey. The main purpose was to discover any differences among students in one district that had changed to a later starting time and two others in which the earlier starting time was maintained. Researchers found significant differences in students' responses regarding their sleep habits. Where the later time was instituted, students reported getting a full hour more of sleep than those with the earlier starting time. These students also reported less overall sleepiness, less daytime sleepiness, and less depression, as well as higher grades than their peers in the other schools. These findings do not indicate causality—that a later starting time will cause improvement in academic grades—but do show a statistical relationship between these two variables that may be explained by such things as less struggle to stay awake in class when starting times are later.

Attitudes Toward School Starting and Dismissal Times

To shed light on how teachers and other school professionals view current starting and dismissal times, researchers also surveyed more than 3,000 secondary school teachers. More than half of the high school teachers surveyed said the optimal time to start school is 8:00 a.m. or later. When asked what would be the latest time to end the instructional day without negative impact on such activities as sports, debate club, or choir, almost 44 percent said that a 3:00 p.m. dismissal time would not have a negative impact on these activities.

A telephone survey of 765 parents included a question about preferred time for their children to leave home in the morning. For senior high school students, most parents preferred a time of 8:00 a.m. Forty-five percent said they gave that reason because it allows more sleep.

Workshop participants emphasized that later school starting times are not a panacea for adolescent sleep problems, nor do they work well for all students or all school districts. Regardless of what time school starts, some adolescents may need to get up earlier to take care of siblings or to get a ride to school. For those considering such a change, it is essential to glean data from sleep research. Armed with the available knowledge, school boards and communities can have an informed debate. Any change in education systems requires gathering all stakeholders to review the data and debate the range of possible options. Public awareness and education also are crucial, as is the involvement of key education officials.

Copyright 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Bookshelf ID: NBK222802


  • PubReader
  • Print View
  • Cite this Page
  • PDF version of this title (335K)

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...