If you remember high school like I do, you probably don’t remember much because you were half-asleep for most of the day. One of the most difficult parts of those years was stumbling out of bed before the sun was up and getting to class at an indecently early hour, still yawning and shaking off the sleep. The struggle was real, and now science has backed us up in our complaints.
New research is suggesting that high schools should have later start times because most teenagers simply don’t function well before 8:30 A.M. The study, published in Pediatrics, found it’s how long they’re sleeping for but when they’re getting to sleep that really matters in the long run. Human bodies operate heavily on internal clocks, meaning that there are certain times during the night when we reach deep sleep. For teenagers, that time is actually around 7:00 A.M., instead of 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning like older adults.
Since teenagers’ internal clocks are set later, starting school at 8:00 A.M. or even earlier means that they aren’t getting the sleep they need to heal and rejuvenate their bodies. Starting school later could lead to many positive benefits. Past research has shown that when teenagers don’t get enough sleep, most of which don’t, they have an increased risk of depression and obesity as well as being more likely to get into car accidents. Grades and standardized test scores go up when they do get enough sleep.
Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at the Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of this new study, was interviewed by the New York Times about the problem. “It’s like requiring an adult to get up five days a week at 3:00 A.M. — that’s their circadian trough — for adolescents to be expected to get up and function at a time when their circadian-driven alertness is at its lowest point in 24 hours,” she explained. Owens believes that moving start times for high schools to a later time is absolutely necessary for the health of teenagers everywhere.
Wish we had this study when we were in high school! Let’s just hope school administrative boards across the country don’t ignore this science lesson.