While American pediatricians warn that sleep deprivation can stack the deck against teenagers, a new study titled “Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later” reveals that youth’s irritability and laziness may be attributable to lack of sleep.
Recently published in the journal of Learning, Media and Technology, this study exposes the negative consequences of sleep deprivation caused by early school bells, and shows that altering education times not only perks up teens’ mood, but also enhances learning and health.
It is no secret that human biology and education measure time in different ways; however, “our ability to function optimally [and learn], varies with biological time rather than conventional social times,” explains the team leading the research.
Things drastically change during adolescence, when “the conflict between social and biological time is greater than at any point in our lives,” continue the academics. Our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is the result of a complex balance between states of alertness and sleepiness regulated by a part of the brain called Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SNC); in puberty, shifts in our body clocks push optimal sleep later into the evening, making it extremely difficult for most teenagers to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
Early school starts in the morning result in chronically sleep-deprived and cranky teens as well as plummeting grades and health problems. There is a body of evidence showing the benefits of synchronising education times with teens’ body clocks; interestingly, while ‘studies of later start times have consistently reported benefits to adolescent sleep health and learning, there is no evidence showing early starts have a positive impact.
In spite of examples corroborating this theory—such as the case of the United States Air Force Academy where a later start policy boosted marks—educators still fail to grasp it’s not laziness that keeps teens in bed in the morning but their biological clocks.