Study: Homeschoolers get more sleep, may be better prepared to learn

At Montgomery County high schools, the first bells ring in the 7 oclock hour.… (Susan Biddle/For The Washington…)
High school students get on the school bus before the sun is up. (By Susan Biddle/For The Washington Post)

A new study of a few thousand students found that homeschoolers get more sleep than students at traditional public and private schools. What are the consequences? It may be that home-schooled students are better prepared to learn on a daily basis because they get more sleep, researchers said.

The study was conducted by researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver, who studied the sleep patterns of 2,612 students, including nearly 500 homeschoolers. Home-schooled adolescents slept an average of 1 1/2 hours more per night than students in brick-and-mortar private and public schools. Students in the traditional schools started class, on average, 18 minutes before the home-schooled kids, on average, got up in the morning.

Sleep researchers have said for years that teenagers have different biorhythms than younger and older people, and have a hard time going to bed before 11 p.m. Then they have to get up early to get to high school, which often starts well before 7:30. As a result, the majority of teens don’t get the 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep that experts say they should, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Meanwhile, elementary school students, who can fall asleep earlier, generally start class later than high school students. As a result, a growing number of school systems in the Washington area and beyond are considering starting high school later.

“We have a school system that is set up so that the youngest children, who are awake very early in the morning, start school latest, and our adolescents, who need sleep the most, are being asked to wake up and go to school at a time when their brains should physiologically be asleep,” Lisa Meltzer, a sleep psychologist and lead author of the study, was quoted as saying in this article on the National Jewish Health Web site.

“Adolescents need nine hours of sleep a night and if they’re only getting seven hours, on average, by the end of the week they are a full ten hours of sleep behind schedule,” she was quoted as saying, “and that impacts every aspect of functioning.”

Teenagers have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. because of a shift in melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep, in their brains.

The study concluded:

* 55 percent of teens who were home-schooled got the optimal amount of sleep per week

*  24.5 percent of students at traditional public and private schools got the optimal amount of sleep per week.

Here are some tips from Meltzer on how to help teens get the sleep they need:

*Get all electronics out of the bedroom.

*Don’t look at any screens 30-60 minutes before bed time.

*Set a consistent routine.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | March 12, 2013