Later School Start Means Less Sleepy, Happier Teens
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Teenagers who have a hard time getting up for school in the morning (OK, that would be pretty much all of them) may not simply be lazy -- they just knows what's good for them.
Starting school later can help adolescents be more alert and improve their mood and health, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
When kids start puberty, they develop a delay in their sleep-wake cycle of up to two hours, which means they naturally go to bed later and wake up later, developing a biological preference for an 11 p.m. sleep time and an 8 a.m. wake time, the report says. Despite that, adolescents still need about nine hours of sleep a night, the study states. Combine that with schools that start as early as 7:20 a.m. and, in many cases, and you get a lot of sleepy teens.
Researchers looked at more than 200 high school students in Rhode Island. For the purposes of the study, the school's starting time was pushed back 30 minutes to 8:30 a.m. The teens also filled out an online questionnaire about their sleep habits before and after the change in start time.
The changes were dramatic: The percentage of students who slept fewer than seven hours dropped by nearly 80 percent, and there was a nearly three-fold percentage point increase in the number of students who said they got at least eight hours of sleep, from just more than 16 percent to nearly 55 percent, the report says.
What's more, the students said they were more satisfied with their sleep and more motivated. They were less fatigued, experienced a drop in daytime sleepiness and made fewer visits to health care facilities complaining of tiredness. They also went to class more.
But that's not all: The extra sleep boosted the kids' moods. The percentage who rated themselves as somewhat unhappy or depressed dropped from nearly 66 percent to slightly more than 45 percent. And those who said they felt annoyed or irritated throughout the day sunk from 84 percent to just under 63 percent.
When consulted, both students and faculty voted "overwhelmingly" to keep the later start time, the report says.
Related: Teens With Earlier Bedtimes Are Less Likely to Be Depressed, Study Says