8. Jul, 2015

High School Student's Need Later Start Times

Did you know adolescents have biologically different sleep and wake patterns compared to the preadolescent or adult population?

In the early 1990’s medical research found that adolescents have biologically different sleep and wake patterns compared to the preadolescent or adult population. Professor Mary Carskadon is a leader in the field of adolescent sleep research and has written extensively on the subject.

In one of her recent papers 'Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep' it was noted that “Adolescent changes in the timing of sleep reflect a developing circadian and homeostatic system. Our work indicates that teenagers have a slower accumulation of sleep drive in response to sleep deprivation, as well as an internal clock that interprets environmental time cues differently from adults. These results have several important implications."

Prof Carskadon noted that for doctors "these results emphasise the need for differential diagnostic considerations when treating sleep and circadian disorders in adolescents. This appears especially important for the diagnosis of circadian phase disorders, such as delayed or advanced sleep-phase disorders, as well as for insomnia and narcolepsy.” So although it may seem like an adolescent is showing signs of Idiopathic Hypersomnia, Narcolepsy or Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder it could actually be normal behaviour as a result of the natural biological changes in adolescent sleep wake patterns.

What does this mean in simple terms? The changes in adolescence body clocks means that their waking and sleeping times can get later and later. Teenagers (although it can start in adolescents as young as 11) typically prefer to stay up late at night but struggle to get up in the morning. As a result they tend to suffer the consequences of insufficient sleep eg: daytime sleepiness, changes in mood and behaviour, poor judgement, difficultly concentrating etc. Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep have a decline in academic performance, they often suffer physical and mental health problems and they are also at an increased risk of car accidents.

"Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today” said paediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, 'School Start Times for Adolescents' published in the September 2014 issue of Paediatrics.

"The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life”

Dr Owens said “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

As a result of the research in a policy statement published online Aug 25 2014, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommended middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 am or later. They found that doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. It is clear that Australia also needs to consider the natural changes to adolescent biological sleep rhythms and change school start times accordingly. There are high schools in Australia that are known to start as early as 7.15am. It is obvious the advice they are receiving is either not accurate or is being ignored and our youth are suffering.

Check out this link http://www.teen-sleep.org.uk for easy to read information on why sleep is important to adolescents and what you can do to help your child get a better night’s sleep.

Image Credit: Derrivative of 'Sleeping in School' by MC Quinn(CC BY 2.0)