Would later school start times lead to better results for teens?

Secondary Schools

I recall as a student how difficult I always found it to get up for school. The first few lessons would be spent in a somnolent daze, barely receptive to the words of my teacher. Too young for the stimulating effects of coffee, I surely missed out on many hours of my education simply because I wasn`t fully alert.

It`s certainly not uncommon for students to feel this way - a 2019 study conducted by the university of York revealed that 74% of students are sleep deprived. It goes without saying that in a fatigued state one`s learning ability is compromised - new information cannot properly be absorbed, and many concepts presented in the lesson may be misunderstood.

As might be expected the starting time for school varies across the world. The following list of just a few countries presents the time students are expected to be in school and ready to learn:

    • United States: 7:30am

    • Russia: 8:30am

    • South Korea: 8:00am

    • Brazil: 7:00am

    • France: 8:00am

    • China: 7:30am

    • Australia: 9:00am

    • South Korea: 8:00am

    • Switzerland: 7:30am

    • Pakistan: 9:00am

The UK has perhaps the youngest admission age for schoolchildren: five years of age being the typical starting age. Classes begin at around 8:45am, with pupils typically having a 6.5 hour day.

There is a growing movement in the UK and USA for pupils to start their classes later in the day. Many studies, including a recent one published by the American CDC (Centre for Disease Control) reporting that traditional school schedules of an early start do not accord with the natural sleep cycles of children and adolescents, who benefit from later starts to their working day.

It is claimed that children who start school later will experience an increased academic performance. Being well rested in class will naturally aid learning, as students will be better able to process new information, and far more likely to retain it. There is also evidence that well rested pupils will be less likely to nap once they return home, and are better equipped to complete their homework. A later start will also mean pupils have more time to have a healthy breakfast, setting them up for the day, and ensuring they have the energy to sit through the morning lessons with an attentive mind.

Poor sleep habits have been linked to numerous behavioural problems. Anxiety, stress, depression, these can all be exacerbated by insufficient sleep. It goes without saying that these feelings will impede a pupil`s ability to focus and perform to their full academic potential, while also sapping the joy out of their day.

How much sleep is enough though? Teens should try and get between 8 and 10 hours each night, ; while younger pupils need even more, as much as 9 to 11 hours. Studies have shown that the average adolescent only gets about 7 hours sleep a night, a recent UCLA report noting the numerous psychological, physical, and academic drawbacks suffered by sleep deprived students.

Sadly students have never had so many distractions, so many temptations to keep them staying up late. Long gone are the days when there would be a single terrestrial TY channel that would shut down in the evening. Now students have Mobile phones, tablets, social media, all offering a never ending cavalcade of information. The blue light emitted by the screens is guaranteed to mess with their circadian cycle, the sleep-wake timekeeper regulating their sleep pattern.

New research has revealed the circadian cycle of teenagers is actually shifted by two or three hours, meaning their bodies are naturally geared to stay up later, and wake up later. Beth Ann Marlow, a neurologist and sleep expert working at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre expounds this view, saying:

`When we hit puberty, our rhythms start to shift later,` he says. `They delay by an average of about two to three hours.`

Sleep expert Matthew Walker, working at The University of California, Berkeley, goes even further saying during interview:

`Asking a teenager to be awake and trying to absorb information at 8.30 in the morning in some ways is like asking an adult to wake up at 4 o`clock in the morning with good grace, good humour, positive mood and start learning information efficiently.`