Adolescents have a different circadian rhythm compared to children and adults. This means that their bodies want to go to bed later and wake up later, which has the consequence that teenagers can be sleep-deprived at school. As well as resulting in teenagers feeling sleepy, a lack of sleep can make learning and concentrating more difficult. Sleep is also crucial for memory consolidation, enabling the long-term encoding of information that was learnt during the day.

Research has started to investigate what happens when school times are changed to better suit teenagers’ circadian rhythm. One such study in the US found that shifting the school start time later by 50 minutes meant that students had more sleep and their grades improved. Sadly, there may not be much that individual teachers or schools can do about this right now, but it does demonstrate that teenagers aren’t just choosing to have less sleep than they need.

While this poses a challenge for teachers and students, there may be activities that help students to concentrate better, especially during times of the day where students seem especially tired. What activities do you do in school to help your students when they are tired?

Explaining the importance of sleep to your students and giving them strategies for going to bed earlier may help teenagers to manage this difficult clash between biology and the environment. The Teensleep project aimed to recruit UK schools to change their school times, but unfortunately this was too much of a timetabling challenge. Instead, the project is now focussed on sleep education, which is hoped to encourage good sleep habits. Results soon.

1. This article from the Centre for Educational Neuroscience investigates the evidence linking sleep to school performance in their Neuro-hit or Neuro-myth series: ‘Well-rested children do better at school’.
2. Matthew Walker presents the effects of sleep deprivation (not just in teenagers) in this video: ‘What happens to your body and brain if you don’t get sleep’.


Click on the topics below to find out more about the science in the film.

Sleep      ***      Hormonal Changes      ***      Prefrontal Changes
Inhibitory Control      ***      Mental Time Travel      ***      Limbic Changes
Sensation Seeking       ***       Risk taking       ***       Social Development
Theories of Adolescence      ***     Evolution      ***      Mental Health
Neuroconstructivism      ***     Educational Neuroscience


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