Research shows that too little sleep can lead to physical and mental health issues, including a lack of motivation and poor ability to learn.
Now a new study has shed light on the impact of school starting times on students’ sleep.
The study, by Oxford University Press, indicates that delaying school starting times can improve students’ sleep and help them feel better.
The researchers investigated the short and longer-term impact of a 45-minute delay in school start time on sleep and the well-being of adolescents.
Singapore – where school typically starts around 7.30am – leads the world in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, which measures international academic performance of 15-year-old students.
However, Singapore’s school starting time is one hour earlier than the 8:30am (or later) start time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
According to the report, this drive for academic success leads to high attainment in international academic assessments, but is having an adverse effect on the sleep of these students on school nights.
This is because high-performing students in Singapore sleep well below the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep, putting them at risk of cognitive and psychological problems.
Memory and learning are consolidated during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is a phase in the sleep cycle that happens after deep sleep.
During high-pressure exams, it is common for students to stay up beyond their regular sleeping times to ‘cram’ for the next day.
However, this is counterproductive, because with fewer hours to reach the REM phase, the adolescent brain cannot get enough time to rest what they’ve studied the night before.
This is a common problem in Singapore, where sleep deprivation among adolescents is rampant and the average time in bed on school nights is six-and-a-half hours.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way, says said the paper’s lead researcher, Michael Chee
“Starting school later in East Asia is feasible and can have sustained benefits,” Chee said.
“Our work extends the empirical evidence collected by colleagues in the West and argues strongly for disruption in practice and attitudes surrounding sleep and well-being in societies where these are believed to hinder rather than enhance societal advancement.”