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No, Later School Start Times Actually Won’t Help Teenage Sleep Deprivation

Ashley Jankowski is a writer currently pursuing Environmental Science and Journalism degrees from New York University. Her writing has appeared on Viewing NYC, I’mPerfect Magazine, and HerCampus, not to mention her ten daily To-Do lists ...

Early school start times aren't to blame for teenage sleepiness, according to study

The biological clocks of teenagers are, as we know, a bit skewed, making them naturally want to sleep well into the afternoon and remain alert longer into the evening. And often, when the alarm goes off for school, teens are left feeling exhausted. As the popular argument from angsty teenagers and concerned parents goes, delayed school start times would efficiently solve this problem and create ensuing world peace. However, new research suggests that this isn’t quite the case.

More: Why Teens Sleep Patterns Change

A team of mathematicians and sleep scientists from The University of Surrey and Harvard Medical School recently found that delaying school start times is not enough to reduce sleep deprivation in teenagers. Researchers first took three factors into account: whether the person was a morning or evening person, the impact of artificial and natural light on the person and the typical alarm clock time. Then, using a mathematical model, they were able to calculate sleep deprivation.

Surprisingly, they found that the biological clocks of adolescents are still a factor when it comes to faulty sleep scheduling, but early school start times aren’t to blame for any sort of sleep deprivation. The main cause of this exhaustion? Too much exposure to light in the evening — bedside lamps, book lights, Twitter-Instagram-Facebook-Snapchat-Tinder feeds. You get the gist.

The research shows that later school start times would have no effect on sleepiness in teens if the over-consumption of light, especially late at night, remained unchanged. The teenager’s internal clock would simply adjust to the new start time, leaving them feeling just as tired as before.

More: How To Tell If You’re “Just Tired” or Full-On Sleep Deprived

As it turns out, catching up on sleep during the weekends isn’t the solution, either.

"During the working week our alarm clocks go off before the body clock naturally wakes us up. We then get insufficient sleep during the week and compensate for it during the weekend. Such patterns of insufficient and irregular sleep have been associated with various health problems and have been termed 'social jet lag'," co-author Professor Derk-Jan Dijk said.

So if you’re concerned about your exhausted teen, writing to the school board might not be the best option after all.

Try limiting their exposure to bright light from television, cellphones and laptops later in the evening. And if achieving such a goal seems relatively unlikely (we know it is), you’ve got other options. You can also lower the lights in your home as evening approaches and get your teen to download apps like F.lux or Twilight that adjust the concentration of blue light (the type of light that messes with your natural sleep rhythm) on devices after the sun goes down.

Anything to avoid another early morning battle, right?

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