Teen girl sleeping Teen girl sleeping If the teen in your life isn't performing well in school, take a look at her sleep schedule. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Why starting school later in the day is an A+ idea

A Seattle school district experimented with school start times. The results were pretty amazing.

Why is sleep so elusive? It seems like no matter how we structure our days, we always seem to be desperate for that extra five, 10, 20 minutes of shuteye. It's almost like our bodies are trying to tell us something.

And finally, someone is listening. According to a new study, starting the school day later lets students sleep more, which in turn improves both their school attendance and academic performance. Keep snoozing, you lazy teenagers!

Experts are calling the study the first direct evidence that pushing back school start times really does help students. "Most teenagers are chronically sleep deprived," the study authors, based at the University of Washington, wrote. "One strategy proposed to lengthen adolescent sleep is to delay secondary school start times. This would allow students to wake up later without shifting their bedtime, which is biologically determined by the circadian clock, resulting in a net increase in sleep."

The study authors include UW graduate student Gideon P. Dunster, a summa cum laude graduate of the College of Wooster; Miriam Ben-Hamo, a Ph.D in animal psychology and graduate of both Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University in Israel; and Jason Fleischer and Satchidananda Panda from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

To conduct their research, the team tapped the Seattle school district to experiment with start times. The district delayed their morning bell from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m., then fitted about 180 students with activity and sleep monitors on their wrists. What they found was that although most of the students went to bed around the same time, they were able to gain an average of 34 minutes of sleep per day.

Franklin High School in Seattle, Washington. Franklin High School in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Seattle Public Schools)

From there, the researchers compared the increased sleep to daytime alertness and second-semester grades. Both factors were improved significantly. And at one of the schools in the district, students were late an average of two fewer days and had two fewer absences per year than the year before.

“All of the studies of adolescent sleep patterns in the United States are showing that the time at which teens generally fall asleep is biologically determined — but the time at which they wake up is socially determined,” said Dunster. “This has severe consequences for health and well-being, because disrupted circadian rhythms can adversely affect digestion, heart rate, body temperature, immune system function, attention span and mental health.”

The results, the authors wrote, "demonstrate that delaying high school start times brings students closer to reaching the recommended sleep amount and reverses the century-long trend in gradual sleep loss."

They added: "Given the widespread negative effects sleep deprivation has on adolescent physical and mental health, our study points to the value of a measure such as delaying the school start time toward improving teenage sleep and, in turn, health and academic outcomes."

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Why starting school later in the day is an A+ idea
A Seattle school district experimented with allowing its student to sleep longer. The academic results were pretty amazing.