It’s early on a weekday morning, so early that the streets are still filled with darkness. You walk into your teen’s room. The alarm is buzzing. You reach over to turn it off while attempting to wake him or her. You wonder why this is such a daily struggle, and why your lazy child can’t ever seem to wake up on time for school.

What you may not realize is that your child is not lazy at all. In most cases your teen is just not getting enough sleep. Now, schools across America are recognizing this, and starting to take action accordingly.

The push for later high school start times

There is a movement to change high school start times to 30 minutes later. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to ensure students get enough sleep and maintain healthy sleeping habits.

When you look at the neuroscience behind sleep patterns and teens in particular, you can see why pushing school start times back by a mere 30 minutes can give teens the best opportunity for a positive and successful school experience — and so much more.

Understanding teen sleep patterns

Science has long known that teens have a different biological clock than adults. Though adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep, teens – whose bodies are still growing – need between 8.5 to 9.5 hours each night. Their circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep hormone melatonin, directs them to a later bedtime and awakening.

When teens get enough sleep, the benefits are bountiful:

  • Sleep restores the brain and metabolism, while helping memory, learning, and emotional balance.

  • Sleep has been known to help stave off depression, erratic behavior, truancy, absenteeism, impaired cognitive function, obesity, and even car accidents.

  • Sleep helps students have better focus, impulse control, homework results, improved attendance, concentration, sociability, and alertness during the day.

When teens do not get enough sleep, the problems can be very serious and affect almost every aspect of their lives. They lose the ability to focus and stay on task, they experience fatigue, mental lapses, and symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity and attention deficit. When your teen is stressed through the loss of sleep, the amygdala enlarges, making him or her more emotional in decision-making, while the hippocampus narrows where learning and memory live. As a result, not sleeping long enough can affect not only decision-making ability, but also creativity.

Proof that a late start works

Researchers at the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center in Rhode Island studied the impact of a 25-minute delay in school start time on teens. The results proved that even this small time change could make a world of difference.

  • Students’ overall sleep time increased by an average of 29 minutes.

  • The percentage of students sleeping eight or more hours per night more than doubled, from 18% to 44%.

  • Students experienced significant reduction in daytime sleepiness, as well as improvements to mood and focus.

  • Student intake of caffeine dropped.

While this study eventually resulted in the school returning to its normal start time (and, not surprisingly, students returned to their sleep-deprived struggles), more schools are taking note – and taking action.

Recently, high schools in California, Oklahoma, Georgia, and New York have adopted later start times. They join schools in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota who have already implemented later start times. At the beginning of the last school year, districts in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were researching later start times and some temporarily enacted later start times to study the effects.

Such a small change, with such big benefits

As a parent you know that life with adolescents is tough enough without adding undue stress to their schedules. So if you support your teen and honor his or her sleep biology, you will be rewarded with a healthier, happier, and more academically successful child. There is a lot at risk here for such a small consideration of 30 minutes per day.

I’m for starting school 30 minutes later. How about you?


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.