Sleep and Student Safety: They are Related

Published: July 8, 2010

I live down the street from a high school and am always saddened to see some of the teenagers from my neighborhood dragging themselves to school at 7:15 a.m. or earlier so they can be on time when their classes begin at 7:30 a.m. Requiring high school and young adult students to be in class at such an early time seems counter productive—and even dangerous—in light of recent studies of adolescent sleep patterns.

This research shows that teens need more shut-eye and have very different sleeping patterns than adults or children. They need nine or more hours of sleep per night. Additionally, teens go to sleep later not because they are rebellious but because their secretion of melatonin in the brain is delayed, which causes them to fall asleep later, according to research that appears in the current issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Also, earlier school start times are associated with increased teenage car crash rates, according to a research abstract by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

By contrast, a short delay in start times, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., appears to be associated with significant improvements in adolescent alertness, mood and health. The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine study found that after the delayed start, “students rated themselves as less depressed and more motivated to participate in a variety of activities and were less likely to seek medical attention for fatigue-related concerns in conjunction with the change in start times.”

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So why can’t schools adjust to the biological sleep needs of teens? The change in start times just might improve school safety, reduce truancy and make for happier students.

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