Start School Later for Better High School Students
Starting school just thirty minutes later at a private high school in Rhode Island resulted in better moods, more alert, and less depressed students. They were also more likely to attend class. The study, published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine bolsters evidence that teens have special sleep needs.
About 200 students in grades 9 through 12 at St. George’s School in Newport filled out on-line questionnaires on their sleep habits both before and after the school changed its start time from 8 am to 8:30 am on January 6, 2009. The proportion of students getting at least eight hours of sleep a night jumped from 16.4% to 54.7%. Those getting less than seven hours decreased by almost 80%.
Students reported less daytime sleepiness, improved mood and depression symptoms, and increased interest and motivation to participate in academic and athletic activities. Absences during first period declined and fewer students visited the health center with complaints of fatigue.
Head administrator Eric Peterson also noticed that the teachers were “less frantic” at the start of the day and that everyone at the school ate a healthier breakfast as a result of improved alertness.
The experiment was so successful among all students and faculty members that the school never went back to starting school at 8 am, according to lead author Dr. Judith Owens, pediatric sleep researcher at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
"Mornings are so much more pleasant at my house I can't even begin to tell you," said Owens, whose daughter participated in the experiment. "Many of the faculty members said the same thing: that it improved the quality of their lives as well as the perception that students were just better rested and more ready to start the day."
Sleep medicine specialist have long known that the circadian rhythm of adolescents is different than that of either children or adults, says Dr. Heidi V. Connolly, chief of the division of pediatric sleep medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. There is as much as a two hour shift in sleep-wake cycles that occurs during puberty, she adds.