Adolescent Sleep Needs and Later School Start Times

“Adolescents today face a widespread chronic health problem: sleep deprivation.  Although society often views sleep as a luxury that ambitious or active people cannot afford, research shows that getting enough sleep is a biological necessity, as important to good health as eating well or exercising.”–National Sleep Foundation

Why Is This Important?

“Getting a little extra sleep in the morning can be vital for teens”
–Horacia de la Iglesia

Sleep deprivation is a detriment to all age groups, however adolescents seem to need as much sleep as children do – 8.5 to 9.25 hours a night (National Sleep Foundation).

Once children begin their transition to adolescence, their sleep patterns tend to change and their alertness becomes greater longer into the evening.  This may have something to do with their melatonin secretion, which has been shown to happen later at night than it did when they were younger. Since the beginning of the melatonin secretion happens later into the night, it also stops later in the morning – “which makes it harder the wake up early.”

Mary A Carskadon pioneered this adolescent sleep research, and also found that “the circadian timing system can be reset if light exposure is carefully controlled.”  (National Sleep Foundation)
“In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement” denoting the benefits of moving school start times to 8:30 – and only 17% of public middle and high schools have followed suit. (NPR)

Later School Start Time Findings

Latest research suggests that school districts in Seattle that have delayed start times for high school have telling evidence of improved school engagement.  The experiment was conducted in two schools – Franklin and Roosevelt High Schools. The students’ sleep habits were studied before and after the school start time change, and there was an average of 34 additional minutes of sleep that the students were able to get after the change.

“The study also found an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness and absences.”

The study also found that the later start times did not delay the adolescents’ bed time.  The researchers say they are not certain that the additional sleep increased academic performance, but that the classroom engagement was significantly higher.

A doctor from the American Academy of Pediatrics – Dr. Cora Collette Breuner – was not involved, but she did react enthusiastically to the news of the study.  She also mentioned that this study was a progressive step toward finding a way to level the playing field between higher- and lower-income districts.(NPR)

Whether or not we listen, sleep continues to be a priority for individuals and adolescents are no exception.  In fact, they need the help of adults to help enforce the necessary changes for their benefit. Further research on these studies can be found in the embedded links, and more information can be found in our blog posts relating to the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

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