The school day seems to start much earlier than most work days. This early start time allows parents to wake with their children and prepare them for the school day before they have to be to work. However, according to sleep research, early school start times have a negative impact on childhood sleep patterns and overall functioning. It is well known that sleep is imperative to healthy cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. Academic performance is one area that is significantly impacted by sleep.
For Chinese children, academic performance and success are paramount to many other pursuits and children in China tend to spend more waking hours on homework than their American peers. They also get about an hour less of sleep each night. This deficit in optimal sleep duration can have far-reaching consequences.
In order to determine how even slight delays in school start time can benefit children via longer sleep durations, Shenghui Li of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China conducted a series of studies to see how moderate delay times impacted sleep and school functioning in a sample of elementary-aged Chinese children. The first experiment measured behavior, sleep duration, academic performance, and overall emotional well-being after school start time was delayed by 30 minutes. The second experiment measured the same factors after delaying school start by a full 60 minutes.
Prior to the delays, daytime drowsiness was reported by 64% of the children and was linked to inattention, lack of motivation, and poor academic performance. Short sleep duration, which was present in nearly 40% of the children and classified as less than 10 hours of sleep per night, was only associated with academic performance. After the first delay of 30 minutes, children slept an average of 15 minutes more per night and had nearly 8% less daytime drowsiness. After the additional delay of another 30 minutes, average sleep duration increased by 22 minutes.
Li said, “The effectiveness of delaying school staring time emphasized the benefits of optimal school schedule regulation to children’s sleep health.” However, even though the second delay showed increased benefits to the children, they were not dramatic, suggesting that further delays or interventions designed to increase sleep duration are necessary.
Li, S., Arguelles, L., Jiang, F., Chen, W., Jin, X., et al. (2013). Sleep, school performance, and a school-based intervention among school-aged children: A sleep series study in China. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67928. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067928
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