Could Sleeping Later Help Improve Teens’ Grades?

By Charlene O’Hanlon

Parents of teenagers can attest that getting them up on a school day can be a difficult, if not impossible, task. Now Maryland lawmakers are looking into whether starting the school day later could help teens get more sleep, which could help them improve their grade point average.

In April, Maryland legislators approved a bill that required state health officials to conduct a study on the sleep needs of students and the experiences of school systems that have shifted the hours of their school days, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The idea is to discern whether starting the day later can help students get more sleep and how that might impact their ability to learn. The bill has a number of backers, ranging from educators to advocacy groups to sleep specialists.

“This is the first statewide action,” said Merry Eisner-Heidorn, legislative director of national advocacy organization Start School Later, in the Washington Post article. “It’s the first time it’s been looked at in this way. It’s huge, and every stakeholder is involved.”

The article noted that advocates for later high school start times point to research showing sleep deprivation has been linked to such problems as depression, obesity and car crashes.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best. The consequences of not enough sleep can include reduced cognitive learning and ability to solve problems, an increase in aggressive or inappropriate behavior and even an increase in acne, the NSF noted.

The state-sanctioned study, which is slated to be completed by the end of 2014, would include a review of the science of children’s sleep needs, the benefits of sufficient rest and how sleep deprivation affects academic performance, according to the article. It also would look at how school activities were affected in those districts that had changed its school hours.

Del. Aruna Miller, the lead sponsor of the House bill, believes starting the day later could help students excel in ways they can’t currently because of sleep deprivation.

“Studies right now are showing that when schools are starting too early, particularly for high school students, the students are not able to absorb all the material,” she said in the article. “Sleep deprivation has an impact not only on their health but their grades.”

As more people become aware of the risks of sleep deprivation, Maryland’s moves may become a bellwether for other states. And it’s a pretty safe bet students wouldn’t be complaining about being able to sleep later.