Most American middle and high school students start the day too early, government health experts warn, leaving millions of kids at risk of being chronically sleep-deprived.
A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only one in five middle and high school students start the day at 8:30 a.m. or later, the time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers looked at data from nearly 40,000 public schools to determine start times during the 2011-2012 school year. The findings were published today in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The average school start time: 8:03 a.m.
The CDC report cites studies finding more than two-thirds of high school students do not get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8 to 10 hours a night for teens ages 14 to 17.
Health experts have long warned that teens who don't get enough sleep are at risk for a host of ills. Tired teens are more likely to be overweight, suffer depression, perform poorly in school, and engage in risky behaviors.
"Getting enough sleep is important for students' health, safety and academic performance," said Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the study. "Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need."
Once a child hits puberty, the report says "biological rhythms commonly shift so that adolescents become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning," making early school schedules even more difficult.
Despite the health recommendations, the survey found states around the country are slow to change the morning bell. Louisiana had the earliest average school start time, 7:40 a.m. In Hawaii, Mississippi and Wyoming, no school started at the recommended time of 8:30 or later. Overall, 42 states reported that 75-100 percent of their public schools started before 8:30 a.m.
But some school districts are taking action.
In Montgomery Country, Maryland, the school board voted to push start times later in the coming school year. The district serves more than 154,000 students. School board president Patricia O'Neill told CBS News the goal was to hit 8:30 a.m., but there were many obstacles and the district had to compromise.
For instance, O'Neill said if they'd moved high school start times to 8:30 a.m., that would have pushed the elementary school start time much too late. "What parent can go to work at 10 o'clock in the morning?" she said.
The district finally decided that high schools will start at 7:45 a.m., middle schools at 8:15 a.m. and elementary schools at either 9:15 a.m. or 9:25 a.m.
"The necessary window to get all of that done is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle," said O'Neill. "In the best of all worlds, you would buy enough buses so that you would get all your kids in school by 9:00. You would buy more buses, hire more drivers and do that. But that's not the fiscal world we live in."
It wasn't a simple fix, she said, but "I though it was the right thing to do for teenagers. The medical studies indicate it's about quality of life and about health issues."