According to the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, teens benefit from a later school start time.
A private school in Middletown, Rhode Island implemented a start time of 8:30 am vs. 8:00 am. All class times were cut five to ten minutes to avoid a longer school day that would interfere with after-school activities.
Once the school changed the start time, staff immediately noticed that more kids were at breakfast and they seemed more alert. The research found that kids who started school at 8:30 in the morning instead of 8:00 were more alert in class, had better moods and fewer tardies. They even ate healthier breakfasts. Also, students fell asleep in class less often and fewer went to the health center with fatigue-related complaints. And finally, students felt more motivated and less depressed.
Far from staying up later, students went to bed earlier, so they added an average of 45 minutes to their sleep time on school nights.
The school, which includes grades nine through 12, decided to try the later time just as an experiment. According to the plan, from Jan. 6 to March 6, 2009, school would start 30 minutes later.
The 201 high school students completed sleep habit surveys before and after the nine-week experiment last year. The results were so swift and dramatic that the school made the time change permanent.
Starting school a half-hour later increased the percentage of students getting at least eight hours of sleep from 16 percent to 55 percent; reduced the percentage who said they rarely or never got enough sleep from 69 percent to 34 percent; and reduced the percentage of students who rated themselves as “at least somewhat unhappy” or depressed from 66 percent to 45 percent.
Teenagers need an average of nine to 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night but find it hard to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Shorter sleep times have been linked to poorer academic performance, depressed mood, memory and behavior problems and weight gain.
Parents can help by minimizing the time needed to prepare for school in the morning by keeping televisions, computers and other electronics out of the bedroom.