Sixteen-year-old year high school student Cassandra Clare does not get enough sleep.
“It’s usually between like three to a maximum of six hours,” explained the student at Heritage Regional High School south of Montreal.
Experts say teens should be getting eight to 10 hours per night, but many do not.
Clare often goes to work after school, then still has to contend with homework.
“I go to sleep, it’s like 2:00 a.m., and I have to wake up early to finish my homework,” Clare said.
“Teenagers nowadays, their life is incredibly, incredibly complicated,” said Sujata Saha, the principal of Heritage Regional High School.
According to new research from McGill University, however, teens’ sleep actually benefitted from the pandemic.
“Their sleep pattern shifted,” said Dr. Reut Gruber, a sleep researcher at McGill and lead author of a new study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.
In early 2020, she started looking into the sleep patterns of 62 students at Heritage Regional High School.
“We had to fill in a log every night to see what time we were going to sleep and waking up,” explained 14-year-old Sofia Van Acker, who participated in the study.
The participants and their parents also needed to fill out questionnaires and wear a watch that monitored their sleep, among other responsibilities.
“After I got my results, I definitely saw that it was different than what I thought it would be, and that a lot of the time I do tend to just lay in bed and wait before I fall asleep,” said 16-year-old Rhea Duguay, another student who agreed to take part in the research.
In the middle of the study, however, the pandemic hit. Online or hybrid learning emerged, along with a completely different schedule.
“We did decide intentionally on a later start because we felt that that would somewhat alleviate stress,” Saha, the school principal, explained.
Creating better sleep habits ahead of fall
Suddenly, Gruber was able to study the difference between the sleep teens were getting before the pandemic and during it.
With no commute, a later start, no extra-curricular activities, teens were suddenly on the sleep schedule their bodies naturally want.
Gruber says more rest means they’ve been more alert and less stressed, which has helped them navigate the pandemic.
“You give them the opportunity to kind of be more in sync with their own physiology. Life gets a lot better, stress goes down,” Gruber told Global News.
She says her research shows teens would benefit from school starting later.
“For our typical developing kids, the ability to go to bed later, wake up later is like great party,” she said.
The ones we spoke to were not so sure about the idea, however.
“If you start school later, you finish school later,” said Clare.
“I think this study has started a conversation and possibly will allow us to look at how can we do things differently,” said Saha.
Gruber hopes at the very least her work raises awareness about the type of sleep schedule teens benefit from. She added that she thinks good sleep habits should be taught in school.
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