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Later school starts could help sleepy teenagers

Sleep scientists suggest the importance of later starts to allow for teenager’s changing body clocks

Teenagers are notorious for staying up late and sleeping in – but experts say that teenagers struggling to get out of bed in the mornings aren’t simply lazy, but are experiencing a real shift in their body clocks.

As adolescents progress through their teens and into their early twenties, they require more and more sleep, says associate professor Steven Lockley, a scientist from Harvard University and consultant to Melbourne’s Monash University. Changes to their circadian rhythms, he says, mean teenagers are naturally inclined to go to sleep later at night and wake up later in the morning.

“The biological clocks of teenagers push their rhythms later. So, asking a 15-year-old to wake up at 7am would be like asking me to wake up at 4am,” Professor Lockley told ABC’s 7.30 during a special segment on teenagers’ sleep broadcast this week.

“Teenagers get bad press when it comes to less sleep. Their parents forget what it was like when they were a teenager and want them to get up earlier and be active earlier.”

Many sleep scientists are pushing for secondary schools to start later to allow teenagers to sleep in, which in turn can improve their moods, as well as their ability to concentrate and learn.

“Pushing school start times later, which has happened in a number of cases, has been shown to benefit the educational attainment of the children, but also behavioural outcomes – things like truancy,” Professor Lockey says.

“We even think there are some improved risks of some more serious disorders such as mental health problems, depression and even suicide risk in teenagers along with more sleep and better bedtimes.

“This is a serious matter; it’s not just about lazy teenagers falling asleep.”

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