Students need more sleep.
Research shows that teens aren’t getting enough sleep in modern life. Present-day issues like social media, tech devices and the general stress of teenage life all can get in the way of getting enough sleep.
It doesn’t help matters that students are asked to wake up during the earliest hours of the day. A 2014 study found that 93 percent of high schools start before 8:30 a.m., even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school start at 8:30 a.m. or earlier.
Kids and teens need more sleep than adults. And yet the need to wake up early for school dwindles their opportunity to sleep long enough, creating a problem where students are staying up late but asked to wake up way too early, going against their biological demands.
How much sleep do teenagers need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens sleep for eight to 10 hours a night. But most teens aren’t getting what they need each night.
In fact, research shows that 66-92% of adolescents don’t get their recommended hours of sleep.
This is often attributed to the fact that teenagers have a delayed circadian rhythm, meaning that they often struggle to fall asleep before 11 pm, which means ultimately, there’s not enough time for them to get the 8-10 hours they need nightly.
And when teens get less sleep, it can have dire consequences. The AASM notes that, “regularly sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.”
Why later start times matter
Getting more sleep can provide wide-ranging positives for students. Take one study out of the Seattle School District as an example.
The Seattle School District delayed the secondary school start time from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Students in the study wore an Actiwatch Spectrum Plus by Philips for 2 weeks and completed a sleep diary and standardized questionnaires. Pre-post results showed reduced sleepiness and an increase in sleep duration of 34 minutes (from 6 hours and 50 min to 7 hours and 24 min).
Additional findings included improved attendance and 4.5% increase in median grades. While the study can’t say definitively that better sleep was the main reason for the improved grades, it certainly could have been a factor, as increased alertness and attentiveness could result in better academic engagement in general.
Can COVID-19 distance learning help teens?
Changing school start times is harder than it sounds. The government, schools, parents, and teachers all have to buy-in to the later start time. Even legislation recommending statewide changes has proven difficult to pass, as demonstrated in California back in 2018.
But with COVID-19 restrictions in place, distance learning is in effect for many teens this fall. This could be the ideal opportunity for teens to start learning later in the morning, allowing them to keep their later bedtimes and wake times intact without missing classes. Remote learning allows for later school times. There is no need to wake up early to get on time in your classroom. These later school times fit a child’s delayed circadian rhythm better. And from existing research, we know that starting the day later for teens has been linked to better school performance and overall health. With online classes, they’ll likely be better able to adapt to a learning schedule that fits their sleep needs best.
Additionally, teens can learn to maintain a consistent wake and sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Large variations in sleep schedules can make you feel more tired. Sticking to a regular sleep and wake pattern helps you feel your best, both physically and mentally. It helps to create a routine before bed as well, which could include a reading a book or listening to relaxing music before falling asleep.
Outside of sleep routines themselves, teens can exercise regularly in the morning or afternoon to help them fall asleep and improve their sleep quality. Teens will also want to limit the amount of caffeine they’re consuming and how many naps they’re taking during a day.
And of course, teens who struggle with sleep problems should reach out to a medical professional for more tips, according to the Sleep Foundation.
It may be hard for teens to sleep the proper amount of hours. Daily pressures from school can encourage later nights and earlier wakeups. But these simple tips and more awareness can help teens find the proper sleep they need before the school day begins.