Sleep aids us in many ways, and is the foundation for overall good health. However, young people today aren’t getting enough of it and as a result, are falling asleep in class.
Since adolescents are sleeping less these days, it makes sense to think about delaying the start of the school day so that students can sleep in and ensure that they are getting the right amount of sleep in order to improve both their health and academic performance.
In a trend that has held for the last ten years young people, particularly adolescents, have been losing up to one hour of sleep every school night. Made worse by modern gadgets such as phones, laptops, video games, and social media, lack of sleep is having a negative impact on young people’s health, education, and work.
South Australian Secondary Principals Association president Jan Paterson said schools should consider a later start to boost students’ performance.
“Teenagers need to sleep more, and they’re more likely to sleep longer in the morning,” Ms Paterson said. “We need flexibility and to stretch the notions of a school day. It’s (a later start) worthy of consideration in looking how to best serve students.”
Young people are cramming a whole lot more in these days, with many of them studying full-time as well as working part-time and maintaining hobbies and social activities.
No doubt the globalisation of media and the advent of a 24-hour society propelled by instant communication is a major factor in young people not getting enough sleep. Social media usage, for instance, has had a major impact as young people displace sleep time with social networking activities.
Sleep loss can have major consequences on educational performance and attendance, and can also lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and alcohol or drug abuse.
One strategy which has been trialled in Australia and which has been adopted in parts of the US is to delay school start times. Research shows when school starts later, adolescents feel less sleepy, less moody and perform significantly better at their academic workload.
Studies demonstrating the benefits of later high school start times are increasingly piling up. That’s because biological research confirms that circadian rhythms shift during the teen years, pushing boys and girls to stay up later at night and sleep later into the morning. Forcing them to start school early—before 8:00 a.m. cuts into their natural sleep cycles, making them tired and groggy when they’re supposed to be trying to obtain new information.
Of course there are implications for a later school start date. The obvious being that students will return home much later, which can impact on outside activities such as sports and work.
Young people are also under much more pressure when it comes to school workloads and vying for university. The majority of school students are also holding part-time or weekend jobs which leaves little room for recreation and down-time.
Some reports have argued that instead of delaying school start times or cutting the length of school attendance hours, is to abandon ‘homework’. Doing so will free up students’ time and workload and will significantly lower stress and anxiety, allowing for better sleep and performance.
Many schools have introduced a ‘no homework policy’ while others are reviewing their homework policies as time-poor families and students struggle to keep up with the extra school work being sent home.
A recent OECD report found that students in Australia’s private schools do two hours’ more homework each week than their public school peers but their results were are no better once socio-economic advantage was taken into consideration.
Both homework and the traditional school attendance times challenges and presents specific difficulties in today’s modern lifestyle. With changes in workplace and living arrangements, and the traditional ‘9-5’ working hours no longer the norm in this flexible society, it makes sense to be more flexible when it comes to school and education arrangements.
The National Sleep Foundation lists the benefits and cons to delaying school start times here.