It’s generally accepted by educators and physicians that most U.S. middle and high schools start too early -- and is causing teens to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.

A recent study found an average school start time of around 8:00 a.m. in all 50 States. It noted school start times varied greatly by state. Schools in Louisiana start the earliest at 7:40 a.m. on average while schools in Alaska begin at 8:33 a.m. on average.

Leading organizations and sleep scientists recommend that schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. A number of children's health organizations also recommend schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., to help teens get the sleep they need.

Doctors have always warned teens that don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, engage in risky behaviors like drinking or using illicit drugs and perform poorly in school.

A large number of studies confirmed kids’ brains are harmed by making them wake up early to go to school. Early school starts also hinder adolescent brain development.

Teens are wired by nature to sleep late. They need at least eight hours of sleep at minimum to promote good health.

Doctors are unanimous in saying more sleep is better for a teen’s health and academic performance. Both the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommend 8 to 10 hours as the appropriate sleep duration for teenagers 14 to 17 years-old.

AASM said 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day is needed to promote “improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” It said a lot of the negative behavior people associate with teens like moodiness, irritability, laziness and depression is a byproduct of sleep deprivation.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the time they need to sleep properly. Despite this appeal, only 9.4 percent of middle schools and 7.7 percent of high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

“If our goal as educators truly is to educate and not risk lives in the process, then I fear that we are failing our children in a quite spectacular manner with this incessant model of early school start times,” Dr. Matthew Walker, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and director of the Center of Human Sleep Science, said.

Dr. Walker is working toward system-wide changes in school start times since he believes sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on health.

However, one of the best things parents can do is encourage their teens to quit using their smartphones or laptops before bed since the blue light emitted by electronic devices keep people awake.

Blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin or the hormone that signals when it’s time to sleep. On average, teens are exposed to over 6 hours of smartphone use daily.

That’s six hours of melatonin disruption. And if a teen uses his phone before bed, odds are high he’s having trouble falling asleep.

woman sleeping
Poor sleep is common among people with anxiety and depression. Photo courtesy of Pixabay