How To Improve All Manner Of Outcomes For Teenagers, With One Simple Change

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We know teenagers need eight hours of sleep a night—but not many are getting it. A new study finds that after making one simple change to students’ schedules, the percentage of them receiving eight or more hours of sleep on a school night jumped from 18 to 44 percent. What was the change? Starting school 25 minutes later than usual.

The news service Eurekalert reports that Julie Boergers, a psychologist and sleep expert at the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, surveyed the sleep habits of students at an independent high school both before and after their school start time was experimentally delayed from 8 to 8:25 a.m. during the winter term. The results were impressive:

“The delay in school start time was associated with a significant (29 minute) increase in sleep duration on school nights, with the percentage of students receiving eight or more hours of sleep on a school night jumping from 18 to 44 percent. The research found that younger students and those sleeping less at the start of the study were most likely to benefit from the schedule change. And once the earlier start time was re-instituted during the spring term, teens reverted back to their original sleep levels.

Daytime sleepiness, depressed mood and caffeine use were all significantly reduced after the delay in school start time. The later school start time had no effect on the number of hours students spent doing homework, playing sports or engaging in extracurricular activities.”

This is hardly the first study to find such benefits from delaying school start times. As Boergers herself notes in the study:

“A small but growing number of school districts have undertaken initiatives to delay start times and systematically examine the impact on students. In a large study, more than 18,000 high school students were assessed before and after the district’s start time changed from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. After the change, bedtimes did not shift to a later time, and as a result, students obtained nearly an hour more of sleep on school nights.

In another study of a school district that delayed high school start times by 1 hour (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.), the percentage of students who reported [getting more than] 8 hours of sleep increased from 37% to 50%.

A recent study of adolescents at an independent high school that delayed start time by 30 minutes (8:00 to 8:30 a.m.) reported bedtimes actually shifted on average 20 minutes earlier, school night sleep duration increased by 45 minutes, and the percentage of students reporting at least 8 hours of sleep increased from 16% to 55%.

In addition to increased sleep, these studies have demonstrated a wide range of other benefits, including lower drop-out rates,  improvements in standardized reading and math scores, lower rates of depression symptoms, and lower rates of car crashes.

Recent research also demonstrates that delaying school start times for middle school students is associated with similar positive outcomes, including more sleep on school nights, decreased daytime sleepiness and tardiness, and better performance on computerized attention tasks.”

So we could help our teenagers achieve “lower drop-out rates, improvements in standardized reading and math scores, lower rates of depression symptoms, and lower rates of car crashes” just by delaying the start of school by a half-hour? Why aren’t we doing it?

Brilliant readers, what do you think—should more high schools begin the day later?

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6 Responses to “How To Improve All Manner Of Outcomes For Teenagers, With One Simple Change”

  1. Kathleen Connell says:

    Yes I agree, but I doubt that much of the western world, teachers unions, parents whose work depends on school timings, after school businesses, commercial and community practices- and so on and so on, would agree. As Australian schools return after a long summer break many teenagers are getting the ‘you have to go to bed earlier and get up earlier” lecture. Sigh.

  2. Absolutely! But then parents will find it hard to get to work by 8 or 8:30, so they too, should start later. It would help everybody.

  3. Marshall says:

    OK, but can we get students to start staying at school until 5 or 6:00? It drives me crazy to see kids leaving school at 3:00!

    • Why, Marshall? Is it possible that some of these kids might want to have a life outside of school? As it is, most of them are being sent home with a ton of work.

      • jolanda says:

        i dont understand your response, Marshall. Does that bother you because it interferes with your agenda? I don’t see why else you would want kids to go till five or six in the evening! When would you like them to eat dinner; shower; do chores/ homework? At midnight?

  4. Andrea adams says:

    We do this in my town and it has worked out fine. I think it’s better to keep kids busy at school until parents are home. A lot of teenagers get into trouble from 3-5.

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