The Impact of Early School Times on Adolescent Depression and Anxiety

Teenage students are notoriously tired. Always yawning, slumped over their desk with their eyes glazed over while the teacher writes on the board–pretty common picture, right? Instead of trying to improve sleep deprivation, we’ve accepted this plague into our daily lives as a society. Studies are starting to show that our lethargy on this issue may be increasing adolescent depression and anxiety.

Early school hours linked to adolescent depression and anxiety

adolescent anxiety and depressionOn average, school starts at 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning–that’s basically how it’s always been. It allows enough time for parents to drop off kids while they go to work and to pick them up near the time they get off. This may be harming our children, though.

A new study by URMC shows that this schedule is connected to higher levels of adolescent depression and anxiety. The researchers not only found a deep connection between adolescent mental health and sleep, but also linked it to school start times.

For healthy functioning, teens need around 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night–but the mass majority, about 90 percent, don’t even get close. Investigators in this issue have identified devices and school start times to be two large contributors to the issue.

This study is different because it looked at how early start times can interfere with mental health instead of focusing on the academic benefits of later start times. They looked at nearly 200 students across the country, taking note of their school start times, sleep hygiene, and family socioeconomic status. They were sorted into two groups: those who started school after 8:30 AM and those who started before.

Clear differences in adolescent depression and anxiety showed up between the school start time groups. However, those with “good baseline sleep hygiene” (AKA getting 8 to 10 hours) had lower symptoms regardless of school start time–though the later start times had even lower symptoms overall.

How to help your teen get better sleep

Sleep is essential. While it would be convenient if we didn’t have to sleep, that is not the case. Our brain needs time to relax and recoup–otherwise it will shut down.

The leader of the study, Jack Peltz, Ph.D., gave advice on how to help your teen wind down and sleep well:

“Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between eight and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed… these efforts will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”

He also suggested that instead of students prioritizing studying for tests and doing homework over sleeping, it should be the other way around.

Elevations is here for your family

Elevations RTC is a residential treatment center for teens, ages 13 to 18. Our students often grapple with anxiety, trauma, depression, ADHD, and other emotional or behavioral issues.

As one of the leading residential treatment schools for struggling teens, we use a combination of a focused therapeutic lens, real-world environment, secure setting, and caring staff to foster growth and success in our students. Finding the right program can be difficult for a family, which is why Elevations is here to help guide you through it.

For more information about treating adolescent depression and anxiety at Elevations RTC, please call .

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