A study involving a private high school in Rhode Island found that letting teens sleep 30 additional minutes had positive effects on their moods and behavior. Letting your teen sleep in may actually be good for her.
Judy Owens, MD, a sleep expert with Hasbro Children’s Hospital, was part of a sleep study at the small high school. The school’s start time was pushed back 30 minutes, giving the students an additional 30 minutes of sleep each morning. The small amount of extra sleep was enough to improve many of the student’s alertness, mood and health.
Teens need at least 9.5 hours of sleep each night, however most do not get close to that amount. Lack of sleep is a major health concern that affects many areas of a teen’s behavior. According to Owens, teens naturally have a “phase delay”, which puts their natural sleeping rhythm at a later schedule than adults. Teens biologically need to stay up later and sleep in later. The ideal sleep time, according to Owens, is from 11 PM to 8 AM for teens.
“In addition to these biological factors, adolescents are exposed to multiple environmental and lifestyle factors such as extracurricular activities, homework and after-school jobs, which can all significantly impact their sleep patterns. As a result of sleep loss during the week, adolescents often “sleep in” on the weekends, further contributing to a disruption of their circadian rhythm and decreased daytime alertness levels.” Owens comments further, “It’s not surprising that a large number of studies have now documented that the average adolescent is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy.”
After the later school start schedule began, many student reported an increase in their sleep duration. A survey before and after the study found that while 69 percent reported feeling they never got enough sleep, that number dropped to 34 percent. Before the study 37 percent reported that they felt unsatisfied by the sleep they did get, that number dropped to 9 percent.
Other positive changes included fewer teens reporting feeling unmotivated, depressed, and fewer visits to the school’s health center. Teachers also reported a 36 percent drop in tardiness to the first hour classes.
Owens sums up the findings, “A modest start time delay was associated with a significant increase in self-reported sleep duration and a decrease in a number of ratings of daytime sleepiness. Perhaps most importantly, students rated themselves as less depressed and more motivated to participate in a variety of activities.”
As researchers look at teens more, there has become a growing body of evidence that changes need to be made to help teens improve their learning and health. – Summer, staff writer
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