Future Voices: “Just one more minute’s sleep” - the pained cry of a generation

Future Voices: Would changing the hours of the school day improve grades?

Future Voices: Would changing the hours of the school day improve grades? - Credit: PA

Teenagers have long been associated with sleeping in, sleeping longer and being lazier than everyone else.

The school term stereotype of a Monday morning, room full of bleary-eyed teenagers struggling to keep their heads up - let alone pay attention - is a truthful one. The teenage sleep cycle is completely different to that of adults.

On average, young people need eight-to-10 hours sleep every night. However, teenagers' sleep patterns shift towards later times for both sleeping and waking.

It is common for teenagers to struggle to fall asleep before 11pm. This means most adolescents don't get enough sleep, and one study found only 15pc reported sleeping five-to-eight hours on school nights.

Not getting enough sleep can limit the brain's ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems, which means people cannot work to the best of their ability in school.

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This obviously results in lower grades than pupils could potentially achieve, and, in the long term, can result in physical and behavioural issues.

The obvious solution is adapting school hours to the teenage sleep cycle. Starting and finishing school one hour later would almost definitely result in a raise in grades, an increase in attendance and a better quality of life for school children across the country.

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This idea has been around in the USA since the early 1990s, when the University of Minnesota tracked high school students from two Minneapolis districts. Later start time in schools resulted in:

• Improved attendance rates

• Less sleeping in class

• Less student-reported depression

• Fewer student visits to school counsellors for behavioural issues

• More even temperament at home

A follow-up study of the Minneapolis Public Schools after five years revealed that these, and other, positive benefits had been sustained.

This shows schools are actually lowering their pupil's grades by starting classes early in the morning.

Since the original study took place hundreds of schools in the USA have made the start time of lessons later.

Some Norfolk high schools start as early as 8am and finish at 2.30pm.

If the the Minneapolis model was applied to schools in Norfolk, the school day could start at 9.30am instead of 8am. Even this one-hour shift could have a significant effect on the undisturbed sleep of the county's teenagers, and their behaviour inside and outside of classes.

Could Norfolk schools relatively low achievement levels be linked in some way to early morning starts? Should they be acknowledging the facts and joining the pilot? Tweet us using @FutureVoicesNfk or email ben.dunne@norfolk.gov.uk

Joe Hamilton, 16


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