A recent study Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behaviour published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine looks at how the sleep patterns of young people change during adolescence and how these changes can affect their overall wellbeing.

Timothy Olds, professor in the school of health sciences at the University of South Australia said “they under-sleep on week days and have this massive catch-up on weekends … so they are working through the week in a sleep deficit”.

Sleep affects how you think, how you feel, and how healthy you are. Adolescents need as much sleep each night as they did when they were children, ideal amount of sleep for an adolescent is about 9 hours each night.

The objective of the study was to examine the impact of a 30-minute delay in the start of the school day on adolescents’ sleep, mood, and behaviour.

This was done through the students completing the online retrospective Sleep Habits Survey before and after a change in school start time. Sleep patterns and behaviour, daytime sleepiness, mood, and absences were all measured during the study.
The data provided interesting information on the sleep patterns and body clocks of adolescents, confirming that their biological preference for falling asleep was approximately 11pm with their natural wake time at about 8am.

Of course any parent of a young person already knows this as they go through the agony involved in getting their teenager up in the morning, especially on school days.

The report found that later school start times might actually enhance the learning process for school age children. Results showed that starting school even 30 minutes later can dramatically improve students’ energy levels and overall health.

The school involved in the study reported that when classes started 30 minutes later there was a 45% drop in students being late or absent from the first class. They also said that the cases of students feeling unhappy or depressesed dropped from 66% to 45%.

The results of the study showed that students were getting on average 45 minutes more sleep per night and that they were actually going to bed up to 18 minutes earlier and the percentage of students getting less than 7 hours sleep decreased by 79.4%. On average 55% of students began to get more than 8 hours sleep per night.

Students reported they had a better sleep and felt more motivated. Daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and feelings of depression were all reduced.

Previous studies of adolescent sleep have shown that typical adolescents are chronically not getting enough sleep and are therefore perpetually tired in a way that impacts their health.

Health problems from chronically not getting enough sleep include changes in mood, attention, memory, behaviour control, and enjoyment of life. Lack of sleep is also likely to impact how adolescents learn and may lead to lower grades in school.

Other health concerns resulting from being tired include:
• Increased risk of driving accidents because of being sleepy
• Decreased exercise leading to a higher risk for weight gain and obesity, and
• Increased use of stimulants.

The authors of the study concluded that a small delay in school start time was associated with significant improvements to adolescent alertness, mood, and health.

How to help teenagers get enough sleep:
• Have a quiet bedroom, turn off the television, mobile and computer
• Limit the amount of caffeine, including caffeinated sodas, coffee, tea, chocolate, and energy drinks
• Exercise not only helps them stay fit but can help them have better and deeper sleep
• Teach your adolescent that their bed is the place they sleep, not the place to work on the computer, text friends, or worry about school, and
• Wind down before bed for at least 30 minutes—read, listen to music, or take a bath or shower.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine School Start time and Sleepy Teens (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(7):676-677) and  Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behaviour (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(7):608-614)