Later school start times, healthier teens

Teen asleep on laptopStarting school even 25 minutes later during the winter term could greatly increase the number of students getting eight or more hours of sleep at night, according to a study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

The study showed that when the start of school was shifted from 8 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. during a school’s winter term, the number of students getting at least eight hours of sleep a night rose from 18 percent to 44 percent. In addition, students got 29 minutes more sleep each night.

When the school start time was moved back to 8 a.m. for the spring term, the students’ sleep decreased to their original levels.

“Sleep deprivation is epidemic among adolescents, with potentially serious impacts on mental and physical health, safety and learning. Early high school start times contribute to this problem,” according to study researcher Julie Boergers, Ph.D., a psychologist and sleep expert at Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center.

“Most teenagers undergo a biological shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, which can make early school start times particularly challenging,” Boergers said.

The study, which included 197 students with an average age of 15, found in addition to improved sleep, a later start time led to significant reductions in “daytime sleepiness, depressed mood and caffeine use.”

While sufficient sleep is important for all people, it may be particularly important for teens. Teens who get insufficient sleep are hindered in their ability to learn and retain information at school, as well as deal with stress.

The website reports that hundreds of schools across the country have changed to later start times, including places like Fayette County, Ky., which saw teen car accident rates reduced by 16.5% after school start times were delayed an hour.

Many of these changes are led by students, such as those in Columbia, Mo. public schools who led a campaign to reverse a proposal for earlier high school start times, and then used their research to convince the school board to start them later—9 a.m. for high school.

And a Colby College study on middle schools in Wake County, N.C. determined that there was a discernable improvement in test scores in schools that started later. Finley Edwards, author of the study, said “Later start times compare favorably on cost grounds to other education interventions which result in similar test score gains.”

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