January 04 : Sleep deprivation has become a public health issue, and the most affected lot are the school going children. Starting school hours late has been found to be beneficial. According to chronobiologists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, this measure has a positive impact on their sleep cycle and learning process.
School going children sleep late at night and have to wake up early in the morning to attend class. They are then expected to perform well in the class. Students of a Germany high school were given the option to opt for usual school start time or an hour later.
Consequences of sleep deficit
Not sleeping enough and not sleeping well may lead to pay a price. It has been observed that adolescents are constantly sleep deprived, which has become a public health issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, has declared sleep deprivation as a public health issue.
Chronic sleep deprivation, for whatever reason, significantly impacts the health and performance of students. It reduces their ability to concentrate. Studies have also revealed that chronic sleep deprivation leads to depression, obesity, diabetes and chronic metabolic diseases. It is, therefore, essential that schools start later than the normal time.
Will later school start time help?
Will changing school hours really help adolescents change their sleep cycle and perform better in class? A team of chronobiologists led by Eva Winnebeck and Till Roenneberg studied the issue at a high school in Alsdorf that shifted school starting hour later in the day.
This German school adopted Dalton Plan and gave the senior students the option to choose whether they want to come to school at normal time and miss the first class or come to school an hour later. The school was awarded the German School Prize in 2013 for adopting flexible timings.
How this concept works
Students who miss out classes need to finish the curriculum on their own. Students are given 10 hours per week for these activities. Students who opt to skip the first class must work through the given material in their free periods or after school.
Researchers studied the students from three senior grades. The team found that majority chose to miss the first class at least twice a week. On these days, they slept an hour longer. However, the team was surprised to find that the flexible timings did not increase the overall duration of the students' sleep. Nevertheless, the students were happy with the new model, and reported that they slept better and were able to focus better in class.
The researchers concluded that perhaps the fact that the students can decide for themselves when to get up in the morning was sufficient to reduce the pressure on them.