What if I told you there was a pill you needed to take every night to ensure you had enough energy to function and perform each day properly? Would you take this pill? You probably would, that’s a no-brainer, and you would probably take the whole thing to make sure you were getting all of the benefits, right? Well, sleep isn’t much different. Although it’s not a ‘pill’ per se, it is something that we all need, but unfortunately, many of us only take ‘part of the pill’. In other words, we get less sleep than we need. For many, this is due to poor nighttime or nutritional habits, medical conditions, or even just work-life stress, but for teens, it is often due to early school start times.
What’s The Issue With School Start Times?
In the United States, most middle and high schools start school well before 8:30 am. While this may be the norm, it may not be what’s best for the students. Take a look at a typical high school student-athletes schedule below:
- Wake Up: 6:30 am
- School Start Time: 7:30 am
- Last Class Ends: 3:30 pm
- After School Sport: 4:00pm-6:00pm
- Arrive Home: 6:30 pm
- After Dinner Homework: ~7:30pm – 11:00pm
- Lights Out Bedtime (hopefully): ~11:30pm-`12:00am
- Rinse and Repeat
While this may be an example of a relatively ‘busy’ student-athlete, it is not uncommon, and there are teens who remain even busier, believe it or not. Assuming that everything goes perfectly throughout the day and the teen does manage to fall asleep when the clock strikes 11:30 pm, that gives them a 7-hour window to sleep until 6:30 am. This is enough to get by, but perhaps not optimal, and chances are they will not always fall asleep right away, nor will they sleep perfectly through the night. Additionally, they may have an important test or series of tests coming up that require them to stay up later than normal, putting them at risk to begin accumulating sleep debt.
What Does The Sleep Research Say?
A study in the Sleep Journal looked at over 28,000 students over 2 years who had later or ‘pushed back’ school start times to get more restful sleep.
They found that middle and high school students reported sufficient sleep duration significantly increased and clinically significant daytime sleepiness decreased. Sleep duration increased an average of 45 minutes for most students.
Middle schools did this by pushing back school start times 40-60 minutes, whereas high schools pushed back by 70 minutes resulting in school start times of 8:30 am or later. The key to this entire equation is that although students went to bed around the same time, they could sleep in a bit later. According to the research, middle school students went to bed an average of only 9 minutes later and slept in 37 minutes later when the new schedule was introduced. High school students went to bed 14 minutes later as well as sleeping in an hour later. This resulted in a net positive of 29 or 46 minutes of extra sleep, respectively. There is evidence to suggest that this type of scheduling better aligns with the biological clock of teens, further explaining its success.
In the United States, only 21 percent of middle schools and less than 18 percent of high schools start at 8:30 am or later. According to the CDC, this is “too early,” and the data certainly supports that. While there may not be a lot, one can do as a student or parent to change the time with which school starts, being aware of how much sleep one is getting is essential. Prioritize not only the duration but the quality of sleep you get and get plenty of it. Do your best not to spread yourself too thin and allow yourself enough time to get restful sleep each night. Remember, the better rest you get, the better you operate, and the better results you get.
Read More: Sleep and Sunlight: Why Athletes Need to Prioritize Both