When summer winds down, students nationwide start gearing up to go back to school. While many think about this “back to school” period as the time to stock up on supplies like pencils and notebooks, the reality is that it marks an important transition in the day-to-day schedule of children and teenagers across the country.
Unfortunately, that schedule transition often carries negative consequences for teenagers. During the summer, most teens have the freedom to stay up at night and sleep later in the morning. This isn’t just by choice; it’s a matter of biology and their circadian rhythms.
During the school year, most teens don’t have the ability to follow this natural inclination toward being “night owls.” Instead, the majority of schools in America require them to start class at 8:30 a.m. or earlier. The upshot is that teens get less sleep, which has implications for their physical health, emotional well-being, and academic achievement.
In this guide, we’ll review what the science tells us about teens, sleep, and school start times. We’ll explain why teens sleep the way they do, why later start times can be beneficial, and what parents and other adults can do to help teens try to get the sleep they need.
Teenagers and Sleep
For many people, it is tempting to think that “sleep is sleep,” and that it’s the same for everyone, especially after childhood. The reality, though, is much more complicated.
As a matter of biology and circadian rhythms, sleep is just different for teenagers. These biological differences affect how much sleep teens need, when they sleep best, and the negative impacts when they get insufficient sleep.