The research focuses on 1,850 teens from all backgrounds living in Southern California and finds that teens who are able to catch up on sleep over the weekends are at lower risk of these behaviors, contrary to previous research.
The study’s lead author, Wendy M. Troxel, said this research is further evidence of the benefits of later school start times. Early start times and teens’ circadian rhythms often conflict, and teens are also biologically prone to staying up later in the evening.
Other benefits often cited in the debate over later school start times include better grades, attendance and decision-making skills. A University of Minnesota study found students who got more sleep had better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and car accidents. They also had lower rates of depression.
Researchers say changing secondary schools’ start times makes biological sense because teens are in their deepest sleep at dawn and have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. Teens should get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
However, due to the logistical issues districts face, only 17% of U.S. public middle and high schools start after 8:30 a.m. The impact on parents’ schedules, higher costs of transportation, and the effect on extracurricular activities have stymied efforts in many locales to move start times.
Districts should consider creative solutions to this problem, as even the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated school should start later for teens. Flipping schedules so that younger students start earlier is one potential cost-saving solution that could ultimately lead to better sleep for high-schoolers.