Rethinking school start times to improve performance

Student sleeping in class

As part of a study, some Seattle public schools delayed the start times of their classes. This measure improved the performance of students and teens’ sleep habits.

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A study reveals that delaying school start times has a positive impact on student performance and, above all, on teens’ sleep habits.

The report, Sleepmore in Seattle, states that most teenagers suffer from chronic lack of sleep. Therefore, it analyzes the strategy of delaying class start time in high school. According to the study's experts, this would allow teens to wake up later without altering their circadian rhythm.

As an experiment, some Seattle public schools delayed class start times from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The sleep behaviors of the two groups of students were contrasted through the analysis of wrist monitors to collect information about light and activity levels every 15 seconds, also, sleep hours were monitored.

The results showed an increase in the average duration of sleep of 34 minutes, a rise of 4.5% in the average scores of students and an improvement in attendance.

Generally, teens choose to be awake later than adults, also they prefer to wake up later. As the report points out, we can blame smartphones, video games or any other digital device to be the central distractor; however, there is a less addressed reason.

Posted in the blog of the University of Washington, Gideon Dunster, professor of Biology, points out that research shows that the circadian rhythms of teenagers are different from adults and children.

The study emphasizes that this teen aversion to waking up early is the result of changes in both circadian regulation and homeostatic sleep. During puberty, the adolescent circadian rhythm naturally delays the onset of sleep. Besides, there is evidence that teens’ circadian clock is less sensitive to light during the morning. On the other hand, the homeostatic regulation of sleep, which increases sleep pressure, also changes in older adolescents. This allows them to stay awake longer compared to younger teens.

As countless specialists praise, the educational experience has to adapt to the students, not the other way around. Before forcing teenagers to sleep early and dragging them from their beds to class, let's invite them to school, a little later, to attend with more energy and disposition.