Teens Happier, Healthier, More Alert with a Little Extra Sleep

Teens Happier with Enough Sleep

Are teens happier when they're getting enough sleep? What happens when teens get extra sleep because their school adopts a later start time?

If you ask any teenager, they'll probably look you straight in the eye and tell you they knew it all along. "That's a no-brainer!" That sort of reaction.

A real-life experiment at St. George's, a private boarding and day school overlooking the sea in Middletown, Rhode Island, has confirmed what most teenagers already knew: Teenagers' classes shouldn't start quite so early!

The school, where the first class normally began at 8:00 a.m., pushed the time up by just half an hour, to 8:30, for grades 9-12 during the three-month 2009 winter term. Not only were the teens happier, but they were also healthier, better nourished, and more alert as well.

The results--and the benefits of even a little bit of added sleep on St. George's students' mood, overall health, and ability to concentrate --were dramatic and swift.

And for those who suspect the teens just took advantage of the later school start time to go to bed later, here's a surprise: They got an average of 45 minutes more sleep per night than they were getting with the old 8:00 start time. Apparently some of the teens liked the feeling of being better rested so much that they decided on their own to go to bed earlier, too! (Lights out requirements for the boarding students stayed the same.)

Besides the overall better moods, at least some of the kids even woke up in better moods. They also spent less time catching up on sleep on the weekends.

And that's not all.

The extra sleep translated into greater attentiveness and motivation in class and out, more students at breakfast and at their first class on time, far fewer student visits to the school's health center for fatigue-related complaints (down to 5% of students from 15%), better moods and less unhappiness and depression.

The change in each of these areas was significant.

And--no surprise here--they were less sleepy.

The results of a different study led by Dr. James Gangwisch, also suggest that lack of sleep affects the development of teenage depression.

"Adequate quality sleep could therefore be a preventative measure against depression and a treatment for depression," said Dr. Gangwisch, referring to the results of that study.

Here are some of the results in numbers of school starting just a half-hour later, at 8:30 instead of 8:00:

  • Students reporting they "rarely or never" got enough sleep: a drop of 35%, from 69% to 34%
  • Students reporting they never felt like they got enough sleep: a drop of 28%, from 37% to 9%
  • Students reporting they were "at least somewhat unhappy" or depressed: a drop of 21%, from 66% to 45%
  • "Rest passes" requested: Down by 56%

There you have the answer to "Are teens happier when they're getting enough sleep?" Judging from the results of this school's schedule change, not only are teens happier, but healthier, more alert, and more motivated when they get the sleep they need.

When the three-month trial period came to an end, the school voted on whether to continue the later start time. Both students and faculty were so happy with the results that they voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the new start time.

How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

According to Dr. Judy Owens, who is an expert on sleep at Hasbro Children's Hospital and associate professor at Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, the sleep needs of teens are the same as slightly younger children--9 to 9 and a quarter hours nightly is optimal for most.

The National Sleep Foundation says that a whopping 80% of American teens do not get the recommended nine hours of sleep.

How are you and your teens doing in the sleep department?

Dr. Owens, Katherine Belon, and Patricia Moss published the results of the St. Geoge's study in the 2010 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

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