A’s to Zzz? Finally the proof you’ve been waiting for

It’s that time of day again: your alarm is buzzing or your mum is shouting at you from the bottom of the stairs saying you’d better get up “RIGHT THIS MINUTE” and all you want to do is roll over, and enjoy another couple of hours of sleep. How is it 7am again and why, oh why, do you still feel like you need to prop your eyes open with matchsticks just to make it through your first few lectures or classes? While teenagers have argued since the dawn of time that earlier bedtimes don’t make a jot of difference and that school should really start at 11am, a study published in August of 2014 has finally provided the backup they needed.

Researchers have collaborated nearly 30 years’ worth of data on the effect sleep deprivation has on moods and education in teens, and have found that learning, attitude and health can all be negatively impacted.

Your sleep-cycle (or circadian rhythm) is controlled by the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a collection of cells found in the brain that respond to changes in light. When it’s light, your SCN receives signals from your eye which it then distributes to various parts of the brain that in turn affect bodily processes, making you feel awake. The opposite happens when it’s dark. One of the bodily processes that is affected by the levels of light is the production of Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep, and is released as it gets dark. In teenagers, this hormone isn’t released until later on in the day and hence teens often find it hard to sleep before 11pm.

Baring this in mind, it is no wonder then that with the recommended amount of sleep for adolescents being 9.25 hours a night students are finding it hard to balance both sleeping and studying. As it’s biological timings (e.g. the circadian rhythm) and not social timings (e.g. school hours) that affect the ability to learn, when the two are poles apart (as they are during puberty) there are negative consequences for both health and education.

After a small scale study in one school in North Tyneside saw a later start time of 10am caused 16% more students to gain 5 good GCSE grades, a larger scale study is set to begin in Sept 2015 with over 100 schools participating.

So next time you’re dragging yourself out of bed and feverishly hoping that coffee will cure all, you can be at least a little bit smug that even if you hadn’t watched that last episode of Breaking Bad and tried to get an early night, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Oh, and freshers? While you may still be included in the “teen” bracket, even this study isn’t going to make up for those Jägerbombs and 4am bedtime before your 9am lecture.


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