Saturday, July 10, 2010

Small delay in school start times=big benefits

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents, according to a study published in JAMA's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"Ranging from the amount of sleep they were getting, to self-reported sleepiness, to self-reported depressed mood to tardiness, the study demonstrates you can make a positive impact with relatively small change in start time, " said lead study author Dr. Judith A. Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorder center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), most adolescents experience biological changes to their internal clocks during this transition from childhood to adulthood. Those changes often cause them to fall asleep later. When those young people must awake early for school, they don't get the 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep their bodies need.

In addition, a 2006 poll by the NSF found that nearly one-half of adolescents in America were getting less than eight hours of sleep, and many reported that they were aware they were getting less sleep than they needed to feel their best.

In the current study, researchers looked at just over 200 students in grades nine-12 at a private school. The students took a survey, both before and after the school start time was changed from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to find out about sleep-related problems and both sleep and wake behaviors.

Overall, the number of students who reported feeling unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated decreased. Also, fewer found themselves at the health center for fatigue-related concerns.

"If you really need nine hours, and you're only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference," Owens said. She says future studies should include looking at academic performance.

"There are a lot of schools around the country at least contemplating doing this. I think it would be very important for these schools to make an effort to systematically examine the impact- whether that's positive or negative, because we need to have the data to show to schools who are thinking about doing this, because it's not a trivial challenge from an operational standpoint. There are a lot of issues to be resolved. We need to have strong enough evidence that it has a positive beneficial effect in order to recommend this- that other schools do the same thing," she added.

Owens noted that the school in the study did not go back to their 8 a.m. start time, as originally intended.


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