Node Smith, ND

Teens Need more Sleep

There is a debate in education regarding whether school (especially high school) should start later. If you are a parent, you likely have opinions on this matter, and may even be involved in campaigns to change current start times. The support for extending school start times stems from a growing understanding that children need more sleep, especially teens. The brain of an adolescent is actually undergoing a fair amount of change. The “re-wiring” of the prefrontal cortex in teens is part of the reason why this age group is known to be irrational, emotional, and well, act like teenagers. However, sleep is incredibly important for this process to occur efficiently, and healthily. It is during sleep that our brains, and body, repair, grow, and process memories, emotions, and life’s experiences. When sleep is sacrificed, the growing process is hindered.

Argument Against Changing Start Times

The side of the argument that is against changing start times – likely lead by an extreme morning person – champions the idea that if school started later, teens would simply go to bed later. This is a very hedonistic view of teenagers, one that assumes there is no forethought given to sleep on behalf of a teen. This may be anecdotally true, however, research this last week does not support this theory.

Extending School Start Times Extends Teen Sleep

A study by Penn State researchers, has shown through a national survey that extending school start times to 8:30 AM, or later, does increase the amount of sleep teens get per night. In fact, high school start times after 8:30 AM make it more likely that teens will get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. It was seen that teens with the earliest start times (7:00-7:30 AM) got, on average, 45 minutes less sleep than those who started at 8:30 AM or later.

Earlier Bed Times Doesn’t Equate to More Sleep, According to Research

The research showed that even though teens with earlier start times go to bed earlier as well, only those with later start times actually were getting the recommended amount of sleep. One possible reason for this may be increased anticipation of an early alarm clock going off. It is also possible that “sleep debt” plays a role in this discrepancy. The idea that teens who have earlier start times for school make-up for lost sleep during the weekend. This increased sleep on the weekend may impact circadian rhythm during the week and lead to sleep disturbances.


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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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