Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
How do early morning school schedules affect adolescent sleep patterns and performance?
Evanston Township High School, a suburban high school outside Chicago, Illinois and Northwestern University worked together to study the possible impact of a high school schedule on a specific group of teenagers within that school. Differences in sleep patterns between weekdays and weekends during the school year were examined, as well as student performance at different times during the school day. Attempts were made to adjust sleep patterns by exposing one group of students to artificial bright light in the morning.
Three classes (60 students total) of incoming advanced placement biology students kept sleep journals for six weeks beginning in August and continuing for two weeks into September after school started. Sleep journals were also kept for 4 weeks in November and for 4 weeks in February. Morning light treatments were given to the first class of the day (classes began at 8:05 AM) for the last two weeks of the November cycle and the last two weeks of the February cycle. Neuropsychological performance measurements were obtained from computer-generated tests given both before and after light treatments in November and February. Tests were given in the morning and afternoon on two consecutive days for each test period. Pencil and paper mood and vigor assessments were given to each student at the same time that computer performance tests were administered.
Results showed that students lost as much as 120 minutes of sleep on weeknights after school started but on weekends sleep schedules were similar to summer sleep before the start of school. Early morning light treatments had no impact on the sleep patterns, performance or mood and vigor under the conditions of the experiment. All students performed better in the afternoon than in the morning.
The majority of high schools in the United States begin around 8AM. Stating school at this time seems to contribute to sleep deprivation of adolescents attending high school. Attempts to adjust sleep patterns using lights alone were unsuccessful. Students were unable to perform optimally in early morning hours at school. These data support taking more active measures toward finding ways to help adjust academic schedules to adolescent circadian rhythms.