(Natural News) Middle school classes should start after 8 a.m. to help students get more sleep and be more awake during their morning classes, a new study published in the Journal of School Health suggested.
In conducting the study, the research team analyzed data on 11 middle schools located in a large suburban mid-Atlantic school district during the 2014-2015 school year. Of the schools that they studied, eight schools with seventh- and eighth-grade students had later start times around 8 a.m., while three schools had seventh to twelfth-grade students and began classes around 7:23 a.m.
Overall, the research team observed about 1,000 students. Parents and students also answered online questionnaires about the students’ bedtime on weeknights and weekends, school-day and weekend wake times, and length of sleep. In addition, the students rated their daytime sleepiness and described situations when they found it hard to stay awake or fell asleep during the day.
The team found that students studying in schools that start classes before eight in the morning had an average of eight hours and nine minutes of sleep; while students at later-starting schools had eight hours and 23 minutes of sleep on average. For all students, the average bedtime was around 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that teens should get nine hours of sleep every day on average to promote optimal health.
They also found that students studying in later-starting schools were less likely to report instances of daytime sleepiness and more likely to report being wide awake during the day. In addition, they had fewer chances of falling asleep during the day or struggling through afterschool activities.
They gained around one extra minute of sleep for every two-minute delay in school. In total, they gained an additional 17 minutes of sleep per day or about 85 minutes per week. The 17 minutes of extra sleep could be helpful for students.
“It’s important for school systems to know there’s not a one-to-one association,” said study lead author Deborah Temkin, director of education research for the non-profit research organization Child Trends in Bethesda, Maryland. “To hit the recommended nine hours of sleep, school start times may have to move to 9:30 a.m. or later, which may not be feasible for many districts.”
Detrimental effects of earlier school start times
Another study revealed the negative effects of earlier school start times. In the study led by the University of Rochester Medical Center, it was found that teenagers at high school who study in schools that start classes before 8:30 a.m. have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. This study is the first study to investigate how school start times impact sleep quality, even when a student is trying to get a good night’s sleep. (Related: When A Teen’s Inability to Juggle School, Sleep, & Social Leads to Depression.)
The research team used an online tool to gather data from 197 students across the U.S. between 14 and 17 years old. Both the students and their parents answered a survey on the teen’s level of sleep hygiene, family socioeconomic status, their school start times, and whether the child is a morning or night person. For one week, the teens were tasked to keep a sleep diary to keep a record of their sleep hygiene, levels of sleep quality and duration, and their depressive or anxiety symptoms.
“Our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens,” said Jack Peltz, leader of the study.
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