Later School Start Time Good for Teens

foreground: a school bus on the road; background: the CN TowerTeenagers will tell you that school starts too early. Now researchers from the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center agree with them. Basing their research on the facts that sleep deprivation is a serious problem among teens and that teenagers’ natural rhythms shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, the researchers examined how a later school start time affected teenagers. They found that teens benefited in multiple ways from the change. This research may encourage school districts to rethink appropriate school start times for teenagers.

The researchers launched the School Sleep Habits Survey. They evaluated boarding students from an independent high school before and after a change in school start time. At the beginning of the study, school started at 8:00 AM, but during the winter term, school did not start until 8:25 AM.

The 25-minute school start time difference resulted in a 29-minute increase in sleep duration on school nights, increasing the percentage of students sleeping eight hours or more from 18 to 44 percent. Furthermore, the researchers observed reductions in daytime sleepiness, depressed mood, and caffeine use. The amount of time that students spent on homework or participating in extracurricular activities remained consistent before and after the start time delay.

“If we more closely align school schedules with adolescents’ circadian rhythms and sleep needs, we will have students who are more alert, happier, better prepared to learn, and aren’t dependent on caffeine and energy drinks just to stay awake in class,” concluded Julie Boergers, Ph.D., the psychologist and sleep expert who led the study.

This research is published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

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