Skip to main content

The Relationship Between School Start Times and Educational Outcomes


Purpose of Review

Evidence shows that adolescents need later wake times for sufficient sleep and that starting school later improves sleep outcomes. In recent years, there has been increased interest in the effect of school start times on educational outcomes. We aim to summarize recent studies, evaluate key findings, and identify limitations in the literature.

Recent Findings

Recent studies examined the relationship of school start times to attendance, discipline, grades, test scores, and other outcomes. Many studies found that later start times improved attendance and grades. The results for test scores and other outcomes were more mixed. Nascent evidence suggests the relationship between start times and educational outcomes exists for younger students as well.


While findings suggest that later school start times were associated with better educational outcomes, the methodological approaches employed have limitations. Few studies used rigorous methods to examine within school changes in start times.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. There are often common challenges to delaying school start times (e.g., transportation, afterschool activities, parent work schedules). The following websites summarize those obstacles and provide ideas/resources for parents and education officials interested in delaying start times.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. Carskadon MA, Acebo C, Jenni OG. Regulation of adolescent sleep: implications for behavior. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004;1021:276–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Carskadon MA. Sleep in adolescents: the perfect storm. Pediatr Clin N Am. 2011;58(3):637–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Frey S, Balu S, Greusing S, Rothen N, Cajochen C. Consequences of the timing of menarche on female adolescent sleep phase preference. PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Jenni OG, Achermann P, Carskadon MA. Homeostatic sleep regulation in adolescents. Sleep. 2005;28(11):1446–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carskadon MA, Acebo C, Seifer R. Extended nights, sleep loss and recovery sleep in adolescents. Arch Ital Biol. 2001;139(3):301–12.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. United States Department of Education. Average school start time and percentage distribution of public school start time, by selected school characteristics: 2015-16. National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS).

  7. National Sleep Foundation. 2006 teens and sleep. Available from:

  8. Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, Hall WA, Kotagal S, Lloyd RM, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12(6):785–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Alfano CA, Zakem AH, Costa NM, Taylor LK, Weems CF. Sleep problems and their relation to cognitive factors, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in children and adolescents. Depress Anxiety. 2009;26(6):503–12.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Hasler G, Buysse DJ, Klaghofer R, Gamma A, Ajdacic V, Eich D, et al. The association between short sleep duration and obesity in young adults: a 13-year prospective study. Sleep. 2004;27(4):661–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Ludden AB, Wolfson AR. Understanding adolescent caffeine use: connecting use patterns with expectancies, reasons, and sleep. Health Educ Behav. 2010;37(3):330–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fogel SM, Smith CT. The function of the sleep spindle: a physiological index of intelligence and a mechanism for sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011;35(5):1154–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lufi D, Tzischinsky O, Hadar S. Delaying school starting time by one hour: some effects on attention levels in adolescents. J Clin Sleep Med. 2011;7(2):137–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dunster GP, de la Iglesia L, Ben-Hamo M, Nave C, Fleischer JG, Panda S, et al. Sleepmore in Seattle: later school start times are associated with more sleep and better performance in high school students. Sci Adv. 2018;4(12) This article examines the outcomes of closely matched groups of students before and after a delay in high school start times finding improvements in sleep and science grades.

  15. Lewin DS, Wang G, Chen YI, Skora E, Hoehn J, Baylor A, et al. Variable school start times and middle school students’ sleep health and academic performance. J Adolesc Health. 2017;61(2):205–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Minges KE, Redeker NS. Delayed school start times and adolescent sleep: a systematic review of the experimental evidence. Sleep Med Rev. 2016;28:86–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Morgenthaler TI, Hashmi S, Croft JB, Dort L, Heald JL, Mullington J. High school start times and the impact on high school students: what we know and what we hope to learn. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12(12):1681–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Owens JA, Dearth-Wesley T, Herman AN, Oakes JM, Whitaker RC. A quasi-experimental study of the impact of school start time changes on adolescent sleep. Sleep Health. 2017;3(6):437–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Wolfson AR, Spaulding NL, Dandrow C, Baroni EM. Middle school start times: the importance of a good night’s sleep for young adolescents. Behav Sleep Med. 2007;5(3):194–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Jacob BA, Rockoff JE. Organizing schools to improve student achievement: start times, grade configurations, and teacher assignments. The Hamilton Project. Discussion Paper 2011–08.

  21. Wahlstrom KL. Changing times: findings from the first longitudinal study of later high school start times. NASSP Bull. 2002;86(633):3–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hinrichs P. When the bell tolls: the effects of school starting times on academic achievement. Educ Finance Policy. 2011;6(4):486–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Wahlstrom KL, Dretzke B, Gordon M, Peterson K, Edwards K, Gdula J. Examining the impact of later high school start times on the health and academic performance of high school students: a multi-site study. 2014. Available from:

  24. Edwards F. Early to rise? The effect of daily start times on academic performance. Econ Educ Rev. 2012;31:970–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. El-Sheikh M, Kelly RJ, Buckhalt JA, Benjamin Hinnant J. Children’s sleep and adjustment over time: the role of socioeconomic context. Child Dev. 2010;81(3):870–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Carrell SE, Maghankian T, West JE. A’s from Zzzz’s? The causal effect of school start time on the academic achievement of adolescents. Am Econ J Econ Pol. 2011;3:62–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. •• Groen JA, Pabilonia SW. Snooze or lose: high school start times and academic achievement. Econ Educ Rev. 2019;72:204–18 Using a nationally representative sample, this cross-sectional study finds that later start times are associated with more sleep and better reading test scores for female students.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. • Keller PS, Gilbert LR, Haak EA, Bi S, Smith OA. Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools. Sleep Health. 2017;3(2):113–8 This cross-sectional study finds that earlier start times were associated with more behavioral problems for elementary school students in Kentucky.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. • Keller PS, Smith OA, Gilbert LR, Bi S, Haak EA, Buckhalt JA. Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: an examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky. J Educ Psychol. 2015;107(1):236–45 This cross-sectional study finds that earlier start times were associated with lower test scores for elementary school students in Kentucky.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. •• Bastian KC, Fuller SC. Answering the bell: high school start times and student academic outcomes. AERA Open. 2018;4(4):2332858418812424 This cross-sectional study examines the effect of later high school start times on a wide range of educational outcomes, including absences, suspensions, course grades, and test scores.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. •• Lenard M, Morrill MS, Westall J. High school start times and student achievement: looking beyond test scores. Econ Educ Rev. 2020;76:101975 This study uses a rigorous quasi-experimental design to examine the effect of a change in high school start times on many high school outcomes, finding negative effects on absences, tardies, and high school dropout.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. • McKeever PM, Clark L. Delayed high school start times later than 8:30am and impact on graduation rates and attendance rates. Sleep Health. 2017;3(2):119–25 This study uses pre-post data on high schools delaying start times to examine changes in attendance and graduation rates.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. •• Kelley P, Lockley SW, Kelley J, Evans MD. Is 8:30am still too early to start school? A 10:00am school start time improves health and performance of students aged 13-16. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:588 Using a pre-post-pre design, this study examines achievement test scores and absences in a high school moving its start time from 8:50am to 10am.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. •• Heissel JA, Norris S. Rise and shine: the effect of school start times on academic performance from childhood through puberty. J Hum Resour. 2018;53(4):957–92 Using a unique instrumental variables approach, this study examines the effect of earlier school start times, relative to sunrise, and finds impacts on test scores for both pre- and post-pubescent students.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. • Diette TM, Raghav M. Does the early bird catch the worm or a lower GPA? Evidence from a liberal arts college. Appl Econ. 2017;49(33):3341–50 This study of randomized college course assignments finds that students have higher grades in later starting classes.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Luong P, Lusher L, Yasenov V. Sleep and student success: the role of regularity vs. duration. 2017. IZA Discussion Paper No. 11079. Available from:

  37. Owens J, Drobnich D, Baylor A, Lewin D. School start time change: an in-depth examination of school districts in the United States. Mind Brain Educ. 2014;8(4):182–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah C. Fuller.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Sarah C. Fuller and Kevin C. Bastian declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All reported studies/experiments with human or animal subjects performed by the authors have been previously published and complied with all applicable ethical standards (including the Helsinki declaration and its amendments, institutional/national research committee standards, and international/national/institutional guidelines).

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Sleep and Learning

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fuller, S.C., Bastian, K.C. The Relationship Between School Start Times and Educational Outcomes. Curr Sleep Medicine Rep 6, 298–305 (2020).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Sleep
  • School start times
  • Educational outcomes
  • Academic achievement
  • Adolescents