The biological changes to sleep cycles during puberty make it difficult for adolescents to fall asleep early, which, when combined with an early start for school, results in students frequently running on a less than adequate amount of sleep.
Puberty brings about biological changes to sleep cycles, making it difficult for adolescents to fall asleep early. Mix that with early morning start times for school, it's easy to see that students can be sleep deprived. This is not a new realisation but a new study in SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press, took an in-depth look at possible solutions and outcomes.
It measured the difference that changes to school start times made for approximately 28,000 elementary, middle, and high school students over a two-year period.
The elementary students started 60 minutes earlier and middle school students started 40 to 60 minutes later, while high school students started 70 minutes later. Participating students and their parents were surveyed about the student’s typical bedtime and wake times on both weekdays and weekends. The survey also asked about the quality of sleep and daily energy levels.
The greatest improvements were seen in high school students, who were able to get an extra 3.8 hours of sleep per week once the later start time was introduced. Oversleeping on the weekends also dropped from over two hours to 1.2 hours for high schoolers, indicating that with more weekday sleep, students no longer needed to “catch up” on the weekends.
Middle school students gained another 2.4 hours of sleep per week with a later school start time, which resulted in a 12 percent decrease in reported daytime sleepiness, and elementary school students were unaffected by the earlier start time.
The study is remarkable for its breadth in both sample size and time. It’s also significant that elementary students have been included, even though they didn’t experience any consequential benefits. This is a key factor in policy outcomes that push for school districts to stagger the start times of elementary, middle, and high school students to improve the flow of traffic during peak times.
As students slowly return to in-person learning, wouldn't it be a good idea to seriously consider making systematic changes that will benefit our children and communities?