144891474Teenagers go to bed late, right? In my own very scientific study of all of the teenagers I’ve ever known – I’m always surprised at how late they are able to stay up – and how incredibly hard it is to get them up in the morning.

Brain Pickings.org had a really interesting break down on a study about teenagers and sleep. In his book,  Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep David K. Randall studies how teenagers bodies are essentially wired different than the rest of ours in regards to sleep. It’s pretty interesting:

Biology’s cruel joke goes something like this: As a teenage body goes through puberty, its circadian rhythm essentially shifts three hours backward. Suddenly, going to bed at nine or ten o’clock at night isn’t just a drag, but close to a biological impossibility. Studies of teenagers around the globe have found that adolescent brains do not start releasing melatonin until around eleven o’clock at night and keep pumping out the hormone well past sunrise. Adults, meanwhile, have little-to-no melatonin in their bodies when they wake up. With all that melatonin surging through their bloodstream, teenagers who are forced to be awake before eight in the morning are often barely alert and want nothing more than to give in to their body’s demands and fall back asleep. Because of the shift in their circadian rhythm, asking a teenager to perform well in a classroom during the early morning is like asking him or her to fly across the country and instantly adjust to the new time zone — and then do the same thing every night, for four years.

Randall points out that early start times for school originated in a time when teenagers either had a job after school or needed to get back to work on the farm. Our teenagers still have demands after school, but for most of them those demands have shifted to athletics and after-school programs. Regardless of the fact that our teenagers may not be rushing off to work on the farm, their days are still filled with a lot of activities – activities that are being performed by sleep-deprived bodies and brains. Randall says lack of sleep affects the teenage brain in much the same ways it affects the adult brain – only magnified:

In one study by researchers at Columbia University, teens who went to bed at 10 p.m. or earlier were less likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts than those who regularly stayed awake well after midnight.

In the mid 1990′s, a school district in Minnesota responded to the fatigue of students by pushing the start of the school day and hour and five minutes ahead – to 8:30. There was significant push-back from parents; some needed their kids home earlier to babysit, others just thought the teens would take advantage of the extra hour by staying up later.  The school stuck with their plan for a full academic year. The results were less campus fights, fewer students reporting depression to counselors and a slowed dropout rate. Start times for after school sports were pushed back and participation didn’t diminish. Also, the ”average SAT score for the top 10% of Edina’s students rose from 1288 to 1500 out of 1600 following the implementation of the new schedule. Even the head of the College Board, that institution behind the ominously familiar standardized test, proclaimed the results ‘truly flabbergasting.’”

I realize we’re only looking at one school district, but if such a simple shift can make that big of a difference in helping our teenagers deal with fatigue – it seems like a test more districts should perform, no?

(photo: Getty Images)