The journal publisher Taylor & Francis has just released the results of a new study that confirms that teenaged behaviors and responses that have traditionally been attributed to bad attitudes are actually caused by sleep deprivation. The report appeared in the journal Learning, Media and Technology, and shows that the continued practice of starting high school schedules at early hours of the morning are in direct conflict with teens’ ability to learn and their need for sleep. As a result, education to this particular group is suffering, and so are their moods.
Though many traditionalists prefer to account for teen behaviors as reflective or laziness or general irritability, the study concludes that if educational times could be synchronized with the specific needs of adolescents, there would be clear benefits. The researchers wrote, “Studies of later start times have consistently reported benefits to adolescent sleep health and learning. There is no evidence showing early starts have a positive impact on such things.”
Our human biology changes as we age, but our educational system has not adjusted itself to accommodate the brain and body’s ability to function optimally. Though the earlier childhood education times that are practiced in nursery schools, kindergartens and elementary schools coincide well with the biological clocks of those age groups, the same is not true for older groups. The study’s authors write that adolescence is when “the conflict between social and biological time is greater than at any point in our lives.” What they are specifically referring to is our sleep-wake cycle, which is the brain-driven rhythm of drowsiness and alertness that controls when we fall asleep and when we arise. For those experiencing puberty, the time when we are best able to fall asleep moves much later into the evening. This means that teens are usually unable to begin getting the sleep that they need much before 11:00 p.m., and when this is combined with school starting times of 7:00 a.m. and bus times that may begin as early as 5:30 a.m., it robs the students of the sleep that they need. Teenagers are in need of nine to eleven hours of sleep. Moving the starting times of middle and high schools back to approximately 9:00 in the morning has become a national movement that has won the support of the American Academy of Pediatricians.
Studies have shown that when teens are not getting enough sleep, they are not only able to concentrate better and learn more, but they are also prone to being in a better mood. This was recently proven in a study that was conducted at the United States Air Force Academy, where a later starting time was introduced and the 18-19 year olds in attendance began to earn better grades.
In keeping with these findings, the research group concluded, “Good policies should be based on good evidence, and the data shows that children are currently placed at an enormous disadvantage by being forced to keep inappropriate education times.”