The need for sufficient sleep for adolescents and teens has been touted by medical and mental health specialists, with the nine hours of sleep being recommended. A recent study in Rhode Island has reinforced this belief and suggests that shifting the start time of school by as little as a half hour can be of benefit.
It’s estimated that 80% of high school students don’t get enough sleep on school nights. Going to be earlier doesn’t address the problem because most adolescents and teens experience a shift in their body’s circadian rhythms, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 pm. Since most schools begin classes at 8:00 am, students aren’t able to get sufficient rest before waking to get ready for school.
The Rhode Island study reaffirmed that getting at least nine hours of sleep each night dramatically improved mental and physical health. The study compared the health and performance of students who attended school at 8:00 am and students who attended classes that began a half hour later, at 8:30 am. During the study, most students got about forty-five minutes more sleep on school nights, which was more than researchers had predicted.
Some students noted that they felt so much more alert with the added sleep that they choose to go to bed earlier at night as well. Before the study commenced, less than 20% of the students got at least eight hours of sleep. After the shift in school start times, 55% of students got eight hours or more sleep.
The study illustrated an inverse correlation between amount of sleep and symptoms of depression, which dropped significantly when students regularly got eight or more hours of sleep. The students also reported that when school started later, they felt less irritated and were able to do their homework with less fatigue. Social interactions and extracurricular activities were also more pleasant. At the end of the study, the Rhode Island school used for the study overwhelmingly voted to continue with the later start time of 8:30 pm.