Remember those dreadfully early school mornings? Mine started at 5:45—my alarm would sound, I’d climb out of bed, get ready for the day, hop on the bus at 7, and plop down at my desk around 7:45. The final bell rang at 7:47. I had particularly early and exhausting mornings because I lived about 30 minutes from my school (which equates to about a 45-minute bus ride)—but that doesn’t take away from the fact that my school’s start time was entirely too early. Not just for me, who lived on the opposite side of the county, but for all students, even those who lived right next door.
The result of starting school so early was going to school in a delirious, tired state—one quite unfit for learning. Many argue that students should simply go to bed earlier to fix this problem, but a plethora of research has shown that this is not an effective solution. Teens are practically programmed to stay up late; their biological clocks make them sleepier later at night, which makes going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier pretty darn difficult. Therefore, researchers have started to look into other potential interventions: one being later school start times.
New research adds to a growing body of evidence that says this solution is a promising one. According to the study, “Sustained benefits of delaying school start time on adolescent sleep and wellbeing,” which is published in SLEEP, later school start times lead to students getting better quality sleep and feeling better throughout the day. Additionally, it doesn’t take an enormous change—a mere 45-minute delay does the trick.
Researchers set out to explore how this 45-minute delay might affect students in the short-term and the long-term. To do so, they studied a sample of 375 students from an all-girls’ school in Singapore, which just changed its start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. The team of researchers first evaluated the students prior to the implementation of this later start time, one month after implementation, and once more nine months following the change. These evaluations included self-reports of sleep duration, tiredness, and wellbeing.
The team found that after one month, students were going to bed nine minutes later than they were previously and getting up about 32 minutes later. This meant they were spending about 23 extra minutes in bed. As a result, they reported lower levels of sleepiness during the school day—this proved true for the 9-month follow-up as well. Furthermore, longer sleep duration on school nights led to improvements in attentiveness and, most notably, overall wellbeing.
The researchers also found that the number of study subjects who got at least 8 hours of sleep each night increased. When the school start time was at 7:30 a.m., only 6.9% of participants said they got at least 8 hours of sleep each night of the week, but when it was delayed by 45 minutes, this percentage jumped to 16 percent. Total sleep time also increased by the end of the study, by a grand total of 10 minutes.
In addition to supporting the findings of several other recent studies into the positive effects of later school start times, this research shows that even East Asian countries can benefit from interventions of the like. East Asian cultures place a heavy emphasis on academic success and the people often put it above their own health and wellbeing—a majority of people suffer from the lack of sleep, including the students who, as a result, suffer cognitively and psychologically as well.
However, “starting school later in East Asia is feasible and can have sustained benefits,” according to Michael Chee, the paper’s lead researcher. He adds that this work creates a strong argument for “disruption in practice and attitudes surrounding sleep and wellbeing in societies where these are believed to hinder rather than enhance societal advancement.” So, long story short, all students—whether they be in the West or the East—can benefit immensely from later school start times.
Oxford University Press USA (2018, April 10). Later School Start Times Really Do Improve Sleep Time. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved April 10, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/school-sleep-start-8754/
Lo, J. C., Lee, S. M., Lee, X. K., et al. (2018, April 10). Sustained benefits of delating school start time on adolescent sleep and well-being. SLEEP. Retrieved April 11, 2018 from https://academic.oup.com/sleep/advance-article/doi/10.1093/sleep/zsy052/4960018