As students slowly return to in-person learning, we are presented with the opportunity to seriously consider making systematic changes that will benefit our youth.
Prioritizing a healthy sleep schedule is important for people of all ages, but sleep is especially important for children and adolescents whose minds and bodies are still in development. So, why is it that lack of sleep is so common among this age group?
The biological changes to sleep cycles during puberty make it difficult for adolescents to fall asleep early, which, in combination with early start times for school, results in students frequently running on less sleep than they should be.
A new study in SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press, measures 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 implemented. 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.
This 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, we are presented with the opportunity to seriously consider making systematic changes that will benefit our youth and communities overall.