Now, researchers have found that when given the opportunity to come into school an hour later, students were not only performing better in the classroom, but they were also sleeping better at night.
Reaping the benefits of more sleep
A study based in Germany explored how students’ learning outcomes and sleep patterns changed when they were able to decide for themselves what time the school day started.
The school involved in the study gave senior students more freedom in how they scheduled their day and completed their assignments. Students could either come in for their first period class as usual, with the goal of completing required assignments, or they could choose to come in an hour later, with the understanding that they’d have to use their free time throughout the day or after school hours to complete required work.
To best understand how choosing the start time of their school day impacted students inside and outside of the classroom, the researchers had the students report on their sleeping habits for three weeks before the flexible schedule was implemented, and then again for six weeks afterwards.
The researchers found that most students didn’t jump on the chance to come in later. In fact, most students came in an hour later twice a week on average. However, taking those days to sleep a bit longer proved to be beneficial in countless ways.
Students reported sleeping for about an hour more when they decided to skip their first classes. They also felt better equipped to tackle new course material and had a deeper understanding of what they were learning in school.
Benefits of flexibility
The researchers found that students felt these benefits regardless of how often they decided to utilize the flexible schedule, showing how valuable it can be for students to take breaks on a regular basis and how beneficial it can be for students to have the choice in the first place.
“Perhaps the very fact that one can decide for oneself when to get up in the morning is sufficient to break the cycle and reduce the pressure,” said researcher Eva Winnebeck. “Flexible systems are a viable alternative for implementing later school starts to improve teenage sleep.”