High School Start Time Working Group

Benefits of Late Start for High School

Later Start Time Redu­­ces Disciplinary Incidents 

and Tardiness Among High School Students

High School Start Time Working Group

St. Lawrence University Study First Longitudinal

Confirmation of Start Time Delay Benefits


Pam Thacher, pthacher@stlawu.edu; Serge Onyper, sonyper@stlawu.edu; Ryan Deuel, St. Lawrence, rdeuel@stlawu.edu, (315) 229-5806; or Bill Johnson, Halstead Communications, 610-216-9808, johnson@halsteadpr.com.


A recent study suggests that delaying high school start times can robustly improve two variables that affect students, teachers, and administrators alike: tardiness and disciplinary problems in the classroom.   Longer sleep benefits high school students, many of whom are sleep-deprived, and the current study adds further support to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatricians that high schools should not start the school day until 8:30 a.m. or later.


The study, conducted by Pamela V. Thacher and Serge V. Onyper, both associate professors of psychology at St. Lawrence University, is being published in the February issue of Sleep, the publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.


“U.S. high schools have utilized later start times to improve student success in the classroom, but few studies have followed changes longitudinally,” says Thacher. “We used longitudinal methodology to track sleep, mood, health, attendance, tardiness, problem behaviors, and academics in a high school that delayed start time by 45 minutes.”


The researchers note that students in the Glens Falls, N.Y., school district, who provided data for the study, showed lasting reductions in tardiness and disciplinary incidents despite no change in total sleep time, suggesting that for teens, the delay in the timing of their sleep – going to bed later and getting up later – can in itself improve daytime behaviors. Later start times did not, however, affect physical or mental health and did not increase exam grades or standardized test scores.


“Longer sleep times, coupled with delayed timing, may be necessary to improve mood, health, or academic performance,” says Onyper. “Although a start time delay is the first—and perhaps necessary—step to improved sleep health for most students in this age group, a delay in start time alone may not be sufficient to achieve the kinds of changes to student performance and well-being that schools target.”


The researchers note that the issue of changing school start times often inspires strong opinions in a community – both for and against any change.  Achieving buy-in can therefore be difficult. A comprehensive effort to educate and persuade constituents of the benefits that can occur when sleep is improved may be needed to implement delays in school start times.


In the U.S., 90 percent of high school students start their day between 7:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.; delays have been advocated recently because adolescents have sleep-wake cycles that are delayed by puberty. As a result, peak performance has been shown to occur later in the day among these youth. Other studies show two-thirds of adolescents on average get up to two hours less sleep than they need for optimal functioning.


“When students are delinquent and aggressive, late and insubordinate, learning cannot occur,” says Thacher.  “We believe our findings with respect to discipline and tardiness are significant because improvements in these domains can help every student in the classroom. For example, benefits could include improved safety, morale, ease and efficiency of operation for most school systems.”


The St. Lawrence University researchers collected data from school records and student self-report. In May 2012, before the change was instituted, baseline data were collected, and then after the start time was delayed, data were collected at two further points, November 2012 and May 2013. Reports from school records regarding attendance, tardiness, disciplinary violations and academic performance were collected for two years prior and two years after the start time change.

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