Julie Boergers, Ph.D., a psychologist and
sleep expert from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Centre, recently led a
study linking later school start times to improved sleep and mood in teens.
article, titled "Later School Start Time is Associated with Improved Sleep
and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents", appears in the current issue of
the Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics.
Sleep deprivation is epidemic among
adolescents, with potentially serious impacts on mental and physical health,
safety and learning.
Early start times adds to the problem
Early high school start times contribute to
this problem," said Boergers. "Most teenagers undergo a biological
shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, which can make early school start times
particularly challenging. In this study, we looked at whether a relatively
modest, temporary delay in school start time would change students' sleep
patterns, sleepiness, mood and caffeine use."
Boergers' team administered the School
Sleep Habits Survey to boarding students attending an independent high school
both before and after their school start time was experimentally delayed from 8
to 8:25 a.m. during the winter term.
The delay in school start time was
associated with a significant (29 minute) increase in sleep duration on school
nights, with the percentage of students receiving eight or more hours of sleep
on a school night jumping from 18% to 44%.
The research found that younger students
and those sleeping less at the start of the study were most likely to benefit
from the schedule change. And once the earlier start time was reinstituted
during the spring term, teens reverted back to their original sleep levels.
Daytime sleepiness, depressed mood and
caffeine use were all significantly reduced after the delay in school start
time. The later school start time had no effect on the number of hours students
spent doing homework, playing sports or engaging in extracurricular activities.
Boergers, who is also co-director of the
Paediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital, said that these
findings have important implications for public policy.
"The results of this study add to a
growing body of research demonstrating important health benefits of later
school start times for adolescents," she said. "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
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Picture: Tired teen from Shutterstock