Biology, Not Laziness, Keeps Teens in Bed
Jim LiebeltJim Liebelt's Blog
- 2015 Sep 30
*The following is excerpted from an online article from Forbes.
The teenager who can’t get up in the morning is a familiar figure, but a new study suggests that it is biology rather than laziness that is keeping them in bed.
And the impact of making them start school early has a significant impact on their grades. To combat this, the authors of the study argue that school start times should be pushed back to as late as 11am for some students.
The effect of teen sleep patterns on school performance has been a hot topic in education for some time. In 2013, U.S. Secretary for Education Arne Duncan joined the debate, tweeting ‘let teens sleep, start school later’.
Now an academic paper collating evidence from a series of studies has come down firmly in favor of later start times.
The study, by researchers at Oxford University, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada, argues that current start times at school and university are damaging both the learning and health of students.
Drawing on the latest sleep research and the results of a decade of research into teen sleep patterns, they reject the notion that if only adolescents went to bed earlier they would be able to concentrate in the mornings.
Instead, they suggest that even if teens were in bed early, the natural rhythms of their body mean they would be unable to sleep. These circadian rhythms, also observed in other animals, dictate that adolescents are not designed to function effectively in the morning. A waking time of 7am for a teenager is equivalent to a start time of 4.30am for a teacher in their 50s.
Paul Kelley, the lead author on the report who successfully experimented with later start times as a school leader in England, presented his findings at the British Science Festival earlier this month.
And he argues that the evidence shows there could be considerable benefit in schools starting later.
Sleep deprivation caused by waking too early affects concentration, performance, attention and memory consolidation, as well as socialization, communication and empathy.
In one study in North Carolina, pushing back start times by one hour correlated with a significant improvement in state-wide maths scores, with the benefits particularly felt at the lower end of test scores. The gain was felt at grade 8 and was still there two years later.
And it’s not just school work that stands to gain. Analysis of car accidents during the school day showed that the rate for teen drivers went down in a district that experimented with later start times.