Ever feel like getting up in the morning feels impossible? If you’re a parent, have you noticed that getting your teen out of bed is a much more dramatic event than it should be? In recent years many studies have been conducted to understand the impact of sleep on adolescents and what they have found have led many to take action. Educators and parents across the country have begun arguing in favor of later school start times for their children. What are their reasons? How would such an adjustment benefit students? This week we’d like to discuss the importance of sleep on both academics and other parts of life.
Adolescents Release Melatonin Later Than Adults
Melatonin is a brain chemical that is key in the process of being able to fall asleep. For most adults and young children, melatonin begins to be released around 9:00 pm. By contrast, adolescent brains don’t release melatonin until closer to 11:00 pm. Because of this, asking a teen to get up at 6:00 am is the equivalent of asking an adult to get up at 4:00 am. For anyone who’s had to get up that early, you know how such an early hour can negatively impact your ability to focus and function. In fact, studies have shown that driving while feeling that drowsy is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Sleeping even just an hour longer, waking up at 7:00 instead of 6:00, can improve an adolescent’s ability to function drastically.
Less Tardy Days and Absences
In districts where later start times (usually around 8:30 am) are put in place, schools have found that the number of tardy students and absences have decreased. Because students slept better, they were much more functional and able to arrive to school on time. It also improved student mental and physical health, decreasing the number of days off required by those students. In short, teens can live their lives more fully and with greater health when they get needed sleep.
Improved Grades and Test Scores
Teens in districts with later start times also showed a drastic improvement in GPA and test scores. In one district, standard test scores went up as much as 25%! This is a huge benefit to consider when thinking about what time teens wake up. With just one hour difference, teens can accomplish so much more academically, leading them to a more hopeful future.
Less Automobile Accidents
Another key benefit studies have discovered is that the number of automobile accidents that occur in a community drop significantly when schools start later. As mentioned before, driving drowsy can have similar consequences to driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. As such, it stands to reason that getting more sleep will decrease the possibility of a crash. Not only do later wake up times help the student, they also benefit the community as a whole.
Some people argue that if school starts later, teens will simply stay up later. However, districts where these later start times are implemented find this not to be the case. It is also argued that after school activities would have to be readjusted as well, which could be a hassle. Additionally, teens will have less time to do those activities and get homework done in the evenings. While these are valid concerns, districts that have implemented later start times have found that the benefits far outweigh the slight hassle that comes from making these adjustments.
Sleep is critical for focus and functionality. It’s the time when growth and brain development occur and when our brain can transfer things we learn into long-term memory most effectively. We all need it, but adolescents need it most for development and learning. As such, allowing teens to get their sleep should be a huge priority, something parents and educators are willing to fight for.
For those who would like to learn more about adolescents and sleep, here is a link to a TED talk regarding this need and studies that have been conducted on it: https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_troxel_why_school_should_start_later_for_teens?language=en