Think your teen’s angst and irritability is just typical for their age? While it’s likely that your kid’s attitude may have a lot to do with hormones and the growing pains of adolescence, a new study says that a lack of sleep might be one of the main reasons your teenager acts the way they do.
Our body goes through various transformations during puberty, one of which involves changes in our body clocks. Teenagers are thus more likely to stay up late during that age; it’s difficult for them to fall asleep before 11p.m. If you remember staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. during your teenage years, only to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school, you might be able to identify with symptoms like crankiness, chronic fatigue, and a general lack of motivation.
The new study, published in the journal Learning, Media, and Technology examines the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation during teenage years — such as negatively impacting learning — and how early school times are partially to blame. The research team argues that “our ability to function optimally [and learn], varies with biological time rather than conventional social times.”
The notion that adjusting regular school times to better fit the biological clocks of adolescents has been discussed and studied widely. Studies have shown that classes with later start times lead to students focusing more, and overall, being more productive. “Good policies should be based on good evidence and the data show that children are currently placed at an enormous disadvantage by being forced to keep inappropriate education times,” the authors wrote.
Being a night owl doesn't always mean that you're a party animal or that you're lazy. In fact, studies have shown that creative people tend to thrive late at night — no matter the subject, from writing and painting to making music. A study out of the London School of Economics found that people who adjusted their schedules to accommodate that of a night owl were overall more intelligent and had higher IQs. Other studies have shown that night owls are more relaxed, and performed better in the later afternoon, when their early riser counterparts began crashing.
So perhaps the discussion is more about changing ideas about the education system on a larger basis. Should the success of early risers be validated more than that of late nighters? At least looking at it from a health point of view, it might be better to allow teenagers to use their noggins later in the day rather than at the crack of dawn, and not to punish them or confuse sleep deprivation for "laziness." For the study, the researchers reviewed "the circadian timing system in adolescence leading to changes in sleep patterns," and concluded "that altering education times can both improve learning and reduce health risks."
“Over time, sleep deprivation leads to serious consequences for academic achievement, social behavior, and the health and safety of our nation's youth,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said in 1999 after leading a resolution to spur schools into later start times. “We must encourage schools to push back their start times... a schedule more in tune with adolescents' biological sleep and wake patterns and more closely resembling the adult work day.”
Source: Kelley P, Lockley S, Foster R, Kelley J. Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later. Learning, Media and Technology. 2014.