Sleep specialists in Rhode Island may be on to something. Dr. Judith A. Owens of Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence led a sleep study of 201 high school students in grades 9-12. Owens and her colleagues discovered that pushing class start times back 30 minutes—from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.—gleaned a positive difference in the high school students’ moods and energy levels.
Owens and her team said that after the daytime start was shifted by half an hour, the percentage of students sleeping fewer than seven hours a night dropped by about 79%, while those reporting they slept at least eight hours a night jumped from 16% to 55%.
Students also reported decreases in feeling unhappy or depressed, as well as being annoyed or irritated during the school day with the new starting time. Students also felt less fatigue-related symptoms, and incidents of visiting their health center due to fatigue decreased from 15% to 5% with the 8:30 startup time.
The scientists’ study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and it resulted in a more permanent change in the school’s start time—to 8:30 a.m. That later start time translated into 45 minutes more sleep on weeknights for the students and less “weekend oversleep” time--which is defined as the difference between their school-day wake up time and their days off from school.
"Students reported significantly more satisfaction with sleep and experienced improved motivation," the authors wrote. "Daytime sleepiness, fatigue and depressed mood were all reduced. Most health-related variables ... and class attendance also improved."
The authors noted that while adolescents often go to bed and get up about two hours later when they get to high school than they did in middle school, their sleep needs do not decrease dramatically, and they're still advised to get about 9 hours a night.
An additional possible benefit to a later start-up time at school is that it might be safer for students. A study authored by Dr. Robert Vorona, an associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia says that an earlier start to the school day may lead to more car accidents involving teenagers. These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Societies in San Antonio, Texas.
Dr. Barbara Phillips, of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, agrees with Dr. Vorona. She is the co-author of a study comparing crash rates and increased sleep for adolescent drivers in Lexington, Kentucky. The study indicated that when teens had more sleep, crash rates declined by 16.5% --and that was during a time when teen crash rates throughout the state increased by 7.8% overall.
Whether your school day starts later or not, you won’t want to shortchange your sleep time. It may cause your school days to become school DAZE.