New Delhi: Delaying school start times could help teenagers sleep better, say experts, and could give them a better chance at success later. A new study shows that students who attend schools that start earlier in the day sleep less, are less likely to meet the national sleep recommendations for their age, and are more often tired in the morning.
“It is time that we have a conversation about school start time in Canada,” says lead author Geneviève Gariépy, a postdoctoral student in McGill University’s Institute of Health and Social Policy. “The problem is that early school start time’s conflict with the natural circadian clock of teenagers,” Gariépy says. “As teenagers go through puberty, their circadian clock gets delayed by two to three hours.
“By the time they reach junior high, falling asleep before 11 pm becomes biologically difficult, and waking up before 8 am is a struggle. Adolescents are fighting biology to get to school on time.” Previous research has shown that teenagers who are sleep-deprived do worse at school, have more health problems, and are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and behavioural problems.
For the new study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, researchers used Canadian data covering 30,000 students from 362 schools across Canada, from a cross-national survey conducted every four years in more than 40 countries in collaboration with the World Health Organization.
Start times in the Canadian schools ranged from around 8:00 to 9:30 am. “We found a strong association between later school start times and better sleep for teens,” says co-author Frank Elgar. “Changing school start times involves consultations among various stakeholders, and logistical issues such as bus schedules,” Gariépy says. “But these challenges can be overcome. A later school start-time policy has the potential to benefit a lot of students.”