Health Check: Adolescent sleep deprivation
Every single night, seven days a week, two children take part in a sleep study at Hasbro Children's Hospital.
It's a busy place.
"Sleep deprivation is a serious problem today among adolescents and we're seeing it has significant impacts on learning, their physical health, immune function," said Julie Boergers, Ph.D.
Boergers sees the effects of sleep deprivation. She's co-director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic. As part of the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, she and her team decided to enlist students to prove that delaying school start time just a little can net big benefits.
"We studied 197 high school students at a boarding school in New England, and we looked at an experimental change in their school start times. So, this school changed their school start time about half an hour later during the winter term and we were able to study the students before and after the change in school start time," Boergers said.
What she found was compelling.
"They were less tired during class. They were taking less naps. They were using less caffeine, and they were reporting less depression," Boergers said.
Those changes came just by delaying the start of school by about half an hour.
"Parents often ask, shouldn't they just go to bed earlier? And in fact, that's a great idea but biologically very difficult because of changes in the underlying circadian rhythm throughout the course of adolescence. It's very hard for most adolescents to go to bed before 11 o'clock or so," Boergers said.
The results of this research are published in the current issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
"This is just the latest study that's showing benefits of later school start times. It's not the first," Boergers said.
The school that took part in this study -- in spite of the compelling results -- went back to the old earlier start time.
Boergers concludes change is difficult and that there are a lot of variables involved in schools and their various start times. But she's hoping studies like hers will eventually lead to change.