Many people know at least one teenager who seems to do nothing but sleep. While parents and well-meaning relatives might attribute this to typical adolescent laziness, recent research suggests a less negative interpretation. A new study published in Learning, Media and Technology suggests that when schools start later, academic performance and classroom behavior both improve.
Later School Start Times and Teen Behavior
According to the study’s authors, parents who lament the changes in their teens’ biological clocks really are onto something. During adolescence, they explain, teens’ circadian rhythms change in such a way that going to bed before 11 p.m. is extremely challenging. The ability of all people—teens, children, and adults—to function well is partially a product of how well a person’s social clock conforms to his or her natural circadian rhythms. For teens, social and academic demands often don’t fit well with the need to sleep and go to bed later.
The study’s authors explain that at the age of 16, the ideal time to wake up is about 8 a.m., while the right time to wake up at 18 is around 9 a.m. Schools that change their start times to around 10, then, tend to see better academic performance and a reduction in exhaustion-related problem behaviors. At the United States Air Force Academy, for example, a later start time has helped improve student grades.
While the apparent endless sleeping of teens can look like laziness to adults, it’s a natural biological shift. The demands of school, sports, extracurricular activities, household chores, and similar obligations, though, mean that many adolescents go through their days chronically exhausted. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about nine hours of sleep each night, but only about 15% of teens get enough sleep.
Despite increased understanding of teens’ need for sleep, though, many high schools are starting classes earlier and earlier, often in an attempt to cram in as much information as possible each day. The Start School Later campaign aims to combat this trend. Parents and teens can learn more about the campaign here.
- Kelley, P., Lockley, S. W., Foster, R. G., & Kelley, J. (2014). Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later’. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-17. doi: 10.1080/17439884.2014.942666
- Secret to raising well behaved teens? Maximize their zzzzz’s. (2014, September 26). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140926085830.htm
- Teens and Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep
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