Whether you’re still in school or have graduated from high school long ago, you probably remember the days where you had to wake up bright and early, sometimes before the sun. Teenagers no doubt love to sleep in, and school really got in the way of that five times per week, especially for those with earlier start times. Some schools even start right around 7 a.m., and researchers have found that that could be a hindrance for teenagers.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, teenagers that start school before 8:30 a.m. are more likely to develop depression and anxiety. One of the biggest reasons is that teenagers stay up much later than the average adult, and early start times cause a lack of sleep that leads to these mental problems. Scientists have already said that a lack of sleep was bad for mental health in teens, but there hadn’t been much research showing a correlation between lack of sleep and school starting times.
Jack Peltz, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, said that the findings were “consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health, but ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep.”
Peltz added that “While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.” To sum it up, students don’t stress out about sleep when there’s more time on their hands at night.
The debate on whether or not to start school later typically seems to come down to the parents. While some find it more convenient to have earlier release dates in the afternoon, some parents find it hard to get their children ready for school and then leaving a large gap between school starting and work starting. One mother, Kaitlyn Faden, said “It’s hard getting up in the morning and getting yourself out the door to get on the bus,” regarding her children. Another parent, Carmen Bailey French, disagreed by saying “I don’t think (a later start time is) going to be great for the real world and preparing them for what’s to come in the future being adults.”
Regardless of the feelings of school start times, the lack of sleep that teenagers are getting is quite startling. Peltz said that those between the age of 14 and 17 simply aren’t getting enough sleep, with 90 percent falling well short of the recommended eight to 10 hours. Because of that, Peltz said “What we were really gearing towards is understanding all the different processes around sleep and so part of that was looking at school start times.”
The study took nearly 200 students across the United States, and included surveys taken online about their sleeping habits, sleep quality and more. All students were asked to keep a sleep diary about their nightly routine, and then two groups were formed among students that had school that started after 8:30 a.m. and also before.
After seven days of results, Peltz was able to make a few conclusions regarding the mental health of the students in each group. “Our results suggest that good sleep hygiene practices are advantageous to students no matter when they go to school,” he said. “Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between eight and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed…these effort will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”
Outside of less pressure to fall asleep earlier in the night, Peltz mentions that students with later start times get a few other advantages. Having enough time to eat a nutritional breakfast and even get some exercise in the morning were both baseline factors toward better mental health. He noted that more studies are needed, but early results show that there could be a big relation between starting times and mental health.
“If we don’t sleep, eventually we will die…our brains will cease to function,” Peltz said. “At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival. But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be.”