California Becomes the First State to Officially Push Back School Start Times

California law mandates that the school day start no earlier than 8 a.m. for middle schoolers and 8:30 a.m. for high schoolers. Here's why.

By: Amanda Mushro
Little boy waking up stretching in bed

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Little boy waking up stretching in bed

Photo by: ChristopherBernard

ChristopherBernard

High school and middle school students in California will get to hit the snooze button a little later this school year and hopefully get some extra sleep. Recently, a law went into effect that says schools should begin no earlier than 8 a.m. for middle schools and 8:30 a.m. for high schools. While this law made headlines in 2018 and officially passed in 2019, this is the first school year that California schools will need to officially adjust their start times.

"Asking a teenager to be awake and trying to absorb information at 8:30 in the morning in some ways is like asking an adult to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning," Matthew Walker, a University of California, Berkeley, neuroscience professor, told NPR.

So, how much sleep should teens and tweens get each night? According to the CDC, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends:

  • Children aged 6–12 years should regularly sleep 9–12 a night
  • Teenagers aged 13–18 years should sleep 8–10 hours at night

However, studies through the years show that teens are not getting enough sleep — and it’s getting worse. In 2007, the CDC reported that only 31% of teens were getting eight hours of sleep. However by 2019, that number dropped 22% and it’s being reported numbers are even lower after the pandemic. With less hours of sleep and early school start times — it’s a recipe for disaster.

If teens and tweens don’t get enough sleep at night, they are tired and groggy in the morning and that exhaustion continues into the school day. Kids can’t focus or concentrate on their school work and that leads to kids sleeping in class or simply not focusing on the lessons and their work.

A National Sleep Foundation poll found that 28% of students reported falling asleep in school at least once a week. Also, more than 1 in 5 students said they fell asleep doing homework weekly.

While the average start time for public high schools across the country is 8 a.m., California is taking the leap to make it a statewide policy for schools to have a later start. According to Walker, not only will schools see well-rested kids, but there are plenty of other benefits to a later start. "Academic grades increase, truancy rates decrease, behavioral and psychological problems decrease. Psychiatric referrals also decrease," he says. Experts also say that pushing back school start times helps decrease the number of auto accidents among teens.

"The effects of that one hour is something they will be feeling as 40-year-old adults," said Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University tells the Boston Globe. "When you give them the gift of increased sleep time, it is the biggest bang for the buck that you can think about."

Other states like New York and New Jersey are also considering similar legislation, and if all goes well in California, other states may join in this time change.

"I’m over the moon that California has recognized the importance of science and will now put our children’s health and welfare at the forefront of the decision-making process," said California state Sen. Anthony Portantino. "Generations of children will benefit from starting later in the morning as we know that test scores, attendance and graduation rates all improve after shifting to a later start time. As a parent, I am also pleased that depression, sports injuries, suicidal thoughts and car accidents all decline as well. This is truly a special day for kids."

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