Should Australia Consider Pushing Back School Start Times Like U.S?

"If adolescents don't start getting more sleep, it's going to come back and bite them".

The Dalai Lama famously said "sleep is the best meditation", while US rapper Kayne West tweeted "I love sleep; it's my favorite."

Ironically, it's social media -- the very medium used to share Kayne's musings -- that is robbing many young people of sleep.

'When I was a kid we didn't have social media and a world of information at our finger tips, in the last five to 10 years this is certainly eating into people's sleep, and it's having big consequences," said Professor Sarah Blunden, Head of Paediatric Sleep Research at Central Queensland University.
Push In the US To Ban Schools Starting Before 8.30am

Staying up late is beginning to adversely affect kids in the classroom. So much so, there is now a push to ban any Californian schools from starting before 8.30am.

Four out of five out high schools in the U.S start before 8:30 a.m and sleep deprivation for students is a common problem across the country. Around 70 percent of high school students are not getting the recommended amount of sleep.

"If students get that extra  half hour or hour to get to school, and that bit of extra sleep, studies have shown it definitely makes a difference on performance," she told ten daily.

Research from Harvard Medical School has shown that inadequate sleep can lead to obesity, behavioural problems and depression in kids and young adults.

Experts argue that later school times could also boost graduation rates and save the school system billions of dollars.

Bluden says there is a "big range" regarding what "optimal sleep" is. For primary school children nine to 11 hours is recommended and for teenagers, seven to nine hours will suffice.

Studies have shown that while less than six hours is not good, more than nine hours for adolescents is also not encouraged.

What About Australian Students?

Compared to other western nations, overall New Zealanders and Australians are better rested, although Blunden says 80% of students still say they are tired and want more sleep.

Ten daily spoke with a range of public, independent and catholic schools associations. The short answer is -- no one records all school start times -- and while most start around 9am, some kids are in the classroom as early as 8am.

The NSW Department of Education told ten daily they "don’t centrally record school start times". Interestingly, some public schools in Melbourne have experimented with start times as late as 10.30am -- but this is yet to gain momentum.

Similarly, independent schools also don’t have a set policy for school starting times.  The Association of Independent Schools NSW said  a vast majority of independent schools start between 8.15am and 8.45am.

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A Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) spokeswoman told ten daily Catholic schools don’t have a mandated start time but generally do start between 8.30am to 9am.

“There are regular conversations within CEDP about the issue of start times and we are aware of the research on this issue. At the heart of everything is creating the best learning environment for students while ensuring the needs of parents are considered," she said.

The Long-Term Impacts Of Insufficient Sleep

Blunden says adolescents have always stayed up a little later -- this scientific fact is nothing new. 

"Our biological systems shift around puberty because hormone triggers like melatonin secrete later."

However, what is new is the range of social and health issues that young people now grapple with.

"What do other figures show? Are we more depressed? Yes. Are we more technologically connected? Yes. Are we more overweight? Yes. Are we feeling more pressure and stress? Yes and yes," she said.

Blunden warns that if "adolescents don't start getting more sleep, it's going to come back and bite them."

READ MORE: Can Too Much Sleep Be Bad For You?

Having a big sleep-in on the weekend is also not the answer.

"A two-hour variability in your sleep schedule for example where people try and catch up on sleep on the weekend, is as bad, if not worse than, not getting the sleep in the first place," said Blunden.

Long-term sleep loss also increases the risk of insomnia, depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse.

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty Images