Later school start times lead to more academic engagement
High school and middle school students who slept later and longer, and consequently started school later, had improved academic engagement, according to research discussed at the SLEEP annual meeting.
“No known studies have examined the impact of changing school start times on the personal sleep and well-being of K through 12 teachers/staff in a district having made such a change,” Lisa J. Meltzer, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health in Denver, and colleagues wrote.
They analyzed surveys from 5,441 high school and middle school students that assessed their activity and engagement levels as well as bedtimes, wake times and total sleep times approximately 6 months before and 6 months after their district moved their schools’ start time to about 1 hour later in the day
Researchers found that on weekdays both groups of students reported later bedtimes, wake times and longer total sleep times. In addition, both groups’ scores on a measure of academic engagement were significantly higher after the start time change, but their participation in sports and extracurricular activities dropped. Also, fewer students in both groups reported feeling “too sleepy” to do their homework after the time change.
Meltzer explained the significance of the findings to the medical community.
“The findings should serve as a reminder for providers that sleep is an essential health asset, as important as diet and exercise. Sleep schedules and sleep problems should be discussed with all patients,” she told Healio Primary Care.
“Primary care providers can also remind teens about the importance of consistent sleep schedules, even on weekends, as well as healthy sleep habits, including limiting screen time 30 minutes before bed, having technology-free bedrooms and limiting caffeine intake after lunch. PCPs can also work with their local school boards to help them understand the importance of teens obtaining sufficient sleep, which is not possible with early school start times,” Meltzer continued.
She noted that patients and clinicians should not be concerned that the later school start times (and perhaps then longer/shorter times spent sleeping) may disrupt the sleep cycle.
“Later start times actually work with an adolescent’s natural sleep cycle rather than disrupting it. During puberty a teen’s ability to fall asleep is delayed by a later onset of melatonin, thus early school start times mean that rather than waking naturally at the end of their sleep need or sleep cycle, teens are awakened when their brains should be still sleeping,” Meltzer said.
Reference: Meltzer L, et al. Impact of changing middle and high school start times on sleep, extracurricular activities, homework and academic engagement. Presented at: SLEEP 2019; June 8-12, San Antonio.
Disclosures: Meltzer reports no relevant financial disclosures. Healio Primary Care was unable to determine the abstracts’ other authors relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.