An extra half hour of sleep may not seem like much, but for the 200 students who participated in an experiment that pushed back the start time of school by that much, those extra thirty minutes of shut-eye made a huge difference.
In a report published in JAMA’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, over 200 students in grades 9 through 12 who were allowed to start school at 8:30 instead of 8:00 showed a vast improvement in alertness, mood and health. Fewer students reported feeling unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated. In addition, fewer ended up visiting the health center for fatigue-related concerns.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Judith A. Owens, says that the findings clearly indicate that an age when kids begin to experience biological changes to their internal clocks, getting enough sleep is of the utmost importance.
“If you really need nine hours, and you’re only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the biological changes that occur during adolescence often cause kids to fall asleep later. But despite these changing sleep patterns, they still need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night. But a 2006 poll by the NSF indicates that nearly one-half of adolescents in America are getting far less.
While the study didn’t compare academic performance before and after the start time was changed, it would stand to reason that it would be positively impacted as well. In fact, the administrators at the school involved in the study were so convinced of the benefits of a little more sleep, they ultimately decided to make the later start time permanent.
Why do kids start school so early? Where I live, the elementary students start at a reasonable 9 a.m. while the middle and high school students start much earlier – 7:30 in some cases. I suspect the start times are staggered due to transportation issues, but other than that I can see no good reason to drag kids out of bed at the break of dawn.
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