Delaying school start time does not help sleepy teenagers

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:

Teenagers have long been renowned – fairly or not – for waking up late and struggling to get out of bed in time for school.

Habits like these have led to suggestions that schools should delay lesson start times for older teens, enabling them to be more in tune with their body clocks.

But new research by the University of Surrey and Harvard Medical School in the US has disputed this view.

The study, conducted by a team of mathematicians and sleep scientists, found that starting school later in the morning is unlikely to reduce sleep deprivation in teenagers. It reported that teenagers are particularly sensitive to light – so increasing their exposure to light during the day, turning lights down in the evening and off at night would be a more effective way to help them feel brighter and more alert in the morning.

Researchers used mathematical modelling to predict the impact of starting the school day at 9am rather than 8:30am. This took into account factors such as whether individuals are naturally morning or evening people, the impact of natural and artificial light on their body clocks and the typical time their alarm clock goes off.

They discovered that getting up late in the morning results in adolescents keeping lights on until later at night. This delays the biological clock, making it even harder to get up in the morning.

Speaking about the research, lead author Dr Anne Skeldon said: “It highlights that adolescents are not programmed to wake up late and that increasing exposure to bright light during the day, turning lights down in the evening and off at night should enable most to get up in time for work or school without too much effort and without changing school timetables.”


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