Better sleep for students dependent upon schedule change from school districts

September 6, 2012
By the time they enter high school, students are caught between a biological tendency toward staying up later and school districts that start earlier. The solution? Start the school day later. Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

(Medical Xpress)—Back-to-school time for many U.S. high school students may mean heading back into a Catch-22 of sleep. Teens are naturally inclined to stay up late, but are forced to wake up early, says Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior and a noted advocate of later school starting times.

This fall many veered into a perfect storm for their when they headed back to school. Although their bodies naturally want to go to sleep later than when they were younger, they are required to wake up earlier for school than they used to. Meanwhile, their have increased, their bedtimes are less strictly enforced and their access to light-emitting gadgets at nighttime has increased. The result is an unhealthfully shortened period of sleep each night.

would serve students and teachers better by moving the opening bell later. The weight of the evidence from decades of studies suggests that creating conditions to encourage student sleep would improve the students' mood, energy, , and .

A central finding of research, in my lab and in others, is that adolescents need about as much sleep—about 9 hours—as preteens do. During sleep, maturing brains perform important tasks of regulation and self-organization. The brain also uses this time to consolidate learning from the previous day.

What changes with age is not the need for sleep, but the time when sleep begins. With puberty comes a natural inclination to stay up later, a that is not exclusive to humans. Researchers have documented it in pre- and post-pubescent rodents and monkeys too.

It is a losing proposition for school districts to clash with nature, but many do so with serious consequences of shortened sleep. A 2006 poll of teens and parents by the National Sleep Foundation showed that average sleep duration on school nights drops from 8.4 hours in sixth grade to 6.9 hours by 12th grade. Most of that change stems from later (a trend nature encourages), compounded by early rise times demanded by the school schedule.

Our strong concerns about health consequences of early start time emerged from our study of students whose start time between ninth and 10th grades changed from 8:25 to 7:20. Grade 10 students slept nearly an hour less each night and were extremely sleepy on objective measures of sleepiness at the 8:30 hour. Half showed signs characteristic of narcolepsy! The health consequences don't stop at sleepiness. Other studies of sleep-deprived teens find associations with depression, suicidal ideation, behavior problems, poor grades, driving crashes, obesity, and weakened immune systems.

Schools are not solely responsible for the perfect storm of teen sleep, but they can make a huge difference by moving to a later start time. The result would be happier, healthier, more attentive, and better performing students in high school.

Explore further: College students sleep longer but drink more and get lower grades when classes start later

Related Stories

College students sleep longer but drink more and get lower grades when classes start later

June 14, 2011
Although a class schedule with later start times allows colleges students to get more sleep, it also gives them more time to stay out drinking at night. As a result, their grades are more likely to suffer, suggests a research ...

Recommended for you

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

How pomegranate extract alters breast cancer stem cell properties

November 15, 2017
A University at Albany research team has found evidence suggesting that the same antioxidant that gives pomegranate fruit their vibrant red color can alter the characteristics of breast cancer stem cells, showing the superfood's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.