Later starts for teenagers could improve achievement and safety

In 2014, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that secondary schools start no earlier than 8.30am to accommodate teenagers’ changing biological sleep cycles, which dictate later sleeping and waking times. The AAP cited studies finding that teenagers who don’t get enough sleep demonstrate poor academic performance and a higher risk of road accidents. Furthermore, getting the nine hours of sleep recommended for teenagers becomes a challenge in adolescence when sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11pm.

A group of sleep researchers from Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Nevada recently made their own recommendations that school start times for teenagers should synchronise with their biology, ideally calling for classes to start at 10am for 16-year-olds and 11am for 18-year-olds. They stated that a 7am wake time for teenagers is equivalent to a 4.30am wake time for a teacher in their 50s. The authors explained that the biological changes requiring teenagers to both sleep and wake later coupled with the early start times of most schools in the US leads to 2-3 hours of sleep loss every day. This amount of sleep deprivation hinders memory, metabolism, and psychological health.

The authors describe several studies of later start times, which consistently show health and academic benefits for pupils. They urge policy makers to consider that later start times are less expensive to implement than most other interventions to improve teenage health and academic achievement.

Source: Synchronizing Education to Adolescent Biology: ‘Let Teens Sleep, Start School Later’ (2015), Learning, Media and Technology, 40(2).

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