Why More Sleep = Better Grades

More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin coined the memorable and oft-quoted phrase, 'Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.' Today, research shows that Franklin's words certainly apply to school children, with studies finding that sleep has positive effects on grades and many other areas. Can schools do anything to help students get the sleep they need and thus function better?

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Sleep, Perchance to Be a Better Student

Numerous studies have shown the many benefits of getting an adequate amount of sleep which, for most people, amounts to between seven and eight hours (some researchers suggest nine hours for school students). Improved memory, creativity, physical performance, attention and stress levels have all been linked to a good night's sleep.

In 2009, a study by Hendrix College in Arkansas divided 89 college freshmen into three groups: 'larks' (early to bed and early to rise), 'owls' (later to bed and rise) and 'robins' (who fell somewhere between the two). It wasn't surprising to find that 'owls' tended to have lower grades and GPAs.

The research concluded that adolescents tend naturally to have a 'late to bed and late to rise' sleep cycle, and when 'owls' are forced into a 'lark' pattern to adhere to school schedules their academic performance is adversely affected.

The difficulty in going to bed early and getting up early for most teenagers is due to an increase of the hormone melatonin as kids reach puberty. Melatonin affects sleep, and more of it causes teens to fall asleep late and sleep later in the morning.

A Later Start Will Make You Smart?

In the mid-1990s, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota conducted a School Start Time Study wherein high schools in Minneapolis and a nearby suburb started an hour or more later than usual.

The results were astonishing. Alertness, particularly in early classes, improved. Class participation and grades rose. Dropout rates fell. Students were no longer late to class. There were even reports of students feeling less depressed! It seemed that when students were permitted to follow their natural, melatonin-induced sleep pattern, they were far more responsive and engaged.

The study soon gained the attention of school administrators, teachers and parents from across the country. Similar studies in other locations, including Brazil and Israel, have since been conducted yielding the same results. Since then, many school districts across the country have begun to move toward later start times.

More Than Just Improved Academics

What's more, an increased amount of sleep for adolescents equaled more than just better grades and attendance.

Students who start school later and have the opportunity to 'sleep in' report having fewer cases of depression and suicidal thoughts. The Hendrix College study found that students were 25% more likely to be depressed if they went to bed later and had less sleep.

A study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center concluded that an inadequate amount of sleep results in emotional disorders and even greater instances of substance abuse.

With all that data to back her up, it seems that mom might be right when she tells you to turn the lights out early on a school night. You may just thank her in the morning.

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