School start times and teenage sleep patterns
Many teachers have had the experience of the pupils that arrive at school and sit and do nothing but yawn. Is this the pupils fault, do they stay up to late at night. There has been research into the sleep patterns of teenagers and the internal body clock, how this differs from the pre-teen and the adult. The research looks at the circadian rhythms of the teenager and asks the question if a later start of the school day would be of benefit to teenagers. Does the sleep pattern of the teenager affect both learning and behaviour?
Traditionally senior school pupils have had an earlier starting time than most primary aged pupils. Why is this? Are teenage pupils more able to deal with the early morning start times? This study will look into the issues that are associated with school start times and the sleep patterns of adolescents.
This study will be theory based research, although it will consider the methods that could be used if the study was to be implemented, looking at the ethical implications that can arise from studies involving young people.
To start this study there is firstly the need to have a hypothesis. What is a hypothesis? A hypothesis is a testable statement which can be proved or disproved using research.
The hypothesis for this research is that, if there are changes to a school’s start time this will impact on the learning readiness of pupils.
The hypothesis leads to the statement turning into a research question. Can school start times have an impact on the readiness of pupils to learn within the secondary phase of education?
The reason for choosing this topic for research is from personal experience of pupils arriving at school with little or no motivation to start the days learning, whilst the same pupil is ready to be engaged in the lesson later on in the day, within the same subject base. The pupil that is constantly late, no matter what sanctions that are put in place. There is data from within the setting to show a significant increase in lateness from pupils the higher up the school they are, with the majority of late marks occurring when pupils are in years nine and ten.
Many researchers contend that secondary schools should start later because most of the current school schedules impede with teenage sleep patterns. Unlike those of many adults, the sleep cycles of adolescents are relatively rigid and tremendously difficult to change. The arrival of puberty brings with it a sleep-phase delay in the biological clock (circadian rhythms), of the teenager, which can cause a tendency towards the teenager going to bed later and waking up later.
According to Kraft & Martin (1995), virtually all body systems operate on some rhythmic cycle, even at the cellular level. They go on to say that circadian rhythms are developed endogenously (internally) and that these patterns endure in the absence of any periodic environmental or social cues.
How does all this have an impact on the adolescence? Dahl & Carskadon (1995 pp.19-27) argue that adolescents develop a natural circadian phase impediment and, therefore, they will tend to stay up later at night and then subsequently sleep in later in the morning than they did in preadolescence. They point to circadian schedule disorder as one of the most general adolescent sleep disorders, though one that can be treated with schedule stabilisation, regulating the times of the school day may be a way in which the rhythm may be stabilised.
Although Allen (1991 cited in Carskadon 2002 P: 174) comments that this type of forced awakening of the pupils starting school at an early time does not appear to be able to reset the circadian rhythm, and that weekend sleep does not lessen the negative effects of early starts during the week. This tendency to sleep later on weekends is referred to as a sleep lag condition or delayed phase preference, "as youth sleep in to compensate for sleep lost