Let teenagers lie-in, urge top scientists

An extra hour in bed every morning could improve the academic performance and well-being of teenagers, researchers say, due to their unique sleep patterns. Is it time to give them a break?

‘Making teens start school in the morning is ‘cruel’, brain doctor claims,’ ran a UK newspaper headline in 2007. The response wasn’t enthusiastic. ‘This man sounds brain dead,’ was one incredulous comment.

But since then, there has been growing interest in the idea that teenagers should be given an extra hour in bed in the mornings to boost their academic performance and overall health and well-being.

This week it was announced that the largest ever trial into the effects of sleep on academic success will take place

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in the UK. The year-long study, which begins next September, will see year 10 and 11 pupils at more than 100 schools divided into two groups, with one starting school at 10am, and the other following the usual timetable.

It has long been assumed that most teenagers don’t like getting up in the mornings because they are lazy. If they went to bed earlier, they would be able to wake up earlier, say critical parents.

But according to scientists, this isn’t fair. University of Oxford researchers say teenagers start functioning properly around two hours later than adults. Their circadian rhythms — cycles of sleep and wakefulness — are two hours behind. Getting a teenager to start their day at 7am is like getting an adult starting theirs at 5am.

Yet if the start of the school day was delayed until 10am, the ‘learning, performance, attainment and school leaving qualifications’ of teens would be greatly improved, scientists say.

Predictably, raging hormones are still the culprits. During puberty, a hormone known as melatonin, which promotes sleepiness, is secreted in the brain much later in the evening, meaning that teens find it difficult to fall asleep before 11pm.

Some schools have already embraced the new school day, with impressive results. In one school in North Tyneside, a later start time saw the number of pupils attaining five A* to C grades at GCSE soar from 34% to 50%.

You snooze, you win?

Irregular sleeping patterns, such as sleeping in bursts, waking in the middle of the night or going to bed very late are often thought of as deviant behaviour. But this hasn’t always been the case. In the past, attitudes and sleeping patterns were far more flexible and far less uniform. For too long, adults have tried to make teenagers conform to their own schedules, with little success.

But a late start is not enough, others say, and biology is only part of the problem. Teenagers get sleepy later because they are spending too much time glued to their iPads and mobile phones and playing video games late into the night. This is stimulating their brains well past the time when they should be sleeping. Letting them lie-in in the morning might make this worse.

Allah protects Somaliland.

Lecturer: Abdulkhaliq Mohamed sheikh Osman- Birmingham UK

abdulkhaliq shiek osman <abdulkhaliq248@hotmail.com