Research Roundup: The Benefits of Sleep From Childhood to College

Benefits of Bedtime

When your 6-year-old whines about bedtime, take heart. New research reveals that a regular, age-appropriate bedtime in childhood can lead to healthier teens.

Researchers at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, analyzed longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which included 2,196 subjects from 20 U.S. cities.

They found that only one-third of children between the ages of 5 and 9 had a consistent bedtime. Those who did not have a regular, appropriate bedtime had shorter sleep and a higher body mass index at the age of 15 than their more well-rested counterparts, according to a Dec. 5 news release from the university. The analysis was published in the Dec. 4 journal Sleep.

“Parenting practices in childhood affect physical health and BMI in the teenage years,” said co-author Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health and Society Collaboratory at Penn State. “Developing a proper routine in childhood is crucial for the future health of the child. We think sleep affects physical and mental health, and the ability to learn.”

A Win for Teens

You can’t call them sleepless in Seattle anymore.

Teens in the Seattle school district got extra sleep beginning in 2016, when school and city officials shifted middle and high school start times. Before 2016, adolescents started their school day at 7:50 a.m. Now, they clock in at 8:45 a.m. — nearly an hour later, according to a Dec. 12 report by National Public Radio.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle studied the high school students before and after the time change. They found students got an average of 34 minutes more sleep than before. So, instead of six hours and 50 minutes of sleep a night, these teens got seven hours and 24 minutes a night. The findings were published Dec. 12 in the journal Science Advances.

The study also found that students’ grades improved, and schools reported fewer absences.

More Sleep, Better Grades

Several college students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, got a unique incentive when studying for finals last year.

Michael Scullin, assistant professor of neuroscience, and Elise King, assistant professor of interior design, gave their students extra points if they met “The Eight-Hour Challenge” — averaging eight hours of sleep for five nights during final exams.

Spoiler alert: Students who met the challenge performed better on exams than those who didn’t. And that’s without adding in the extra points.

“Better sleep helped rather than harmed final exam performance, which is contrary to most college students’ perceptions that they have to sacrifice either studying or sleeping. And you don’t have to be an ‘A’ student or have detailed education on sleep for this to work,” Scullin said.

Some students who did not participate in the challenge were monitored and compared with the group of students who did. Those who participated in the challenge averaged 98 more minutes of sleep than those who did not participate.

The study results from the interior design department were published in the Nov. 18 issue of Journal of Interior Design. The psychology department results were published in the Nov. 29 issue of Teaching of Psychology.

“To be successful at the challenge, students need to manage their time better during the day. Getting more sleep at night then allows them to be more efficient the next day,” Scullin said. “By training students in their first year of college, if not earlier, that they can sleep well during finals week without sacrificing performance, we may help to resolve the ‘global sleep epidemic’ that plagues students in America and abroad.”

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