School start time effects on adolescent learning and academic performance, emotional health and behaviour

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Purpose of review

The investigation of the relationship between the time of day that school begins and the effects it could have on students began in the mid-1990s. Since that time, many articles have been written either for the medical literature or the educational literature. This review is intended to bridge that gap by examining together the findings for both academic and health outcomes, exploring what we know and what is needed in further investigation.

Recent findings

Teens who are sleep deficient (defined as obtaining less than 8 h per night) because of early starting time for their school are much more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as drug, cigarette and alcohol use, have significant feelings of depression, get lower grades and are at greater risk for car crashes. Many studies of academic performance and later school start time indicate benefits, although further research is needed to understand the related mechanisms that contribute to improvements in achievement. Recent research in adolescent sleep and outcomes is being shaped by not only measuring sleep duration, but also examining the timing in which sleep occurs.


Early school starting time for middle and high students has a clear, deleterious effect on their health and well being. Most recently, sleep deficit in teens is being viewed as a public health issue that needs a wider discussion about its impact and it necessitates improved public education about the sleep phase shift that occurs during adolescence.

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