Experts from the University of Birmingham (UoB), as well as the Universities of Aberdeen and Oxford, are researching teenage sleep patterns.

Final Year English Literature Student ~ News Editor ~

On Wednesday 21st February at 8:30 pm a programme investigating teenagers’ sleep patterns launched on BBC Two. Evidence suggests that adolescents need a minimum of nine hours of sleep, however, it has come to light that many are functioning with far less.

A BBC Two programme focussed on the issue, Trust Me I’m A Doctor, aired on Wednesday 21st February. It examined why teenagers’ body clocks in particular are wired to stay up later than everyone else’s.

Sleep deprivation in adolescents is a real problem which affects their functioning, their well-being, and even their academic performance

Lead researchers in the field, or ‘sleep experts’, would be testing if a teenager’s school work and overall well-being could be benefited by a later start to the day. Previous research suggests that teenagers do not get enough sleep due to both physical and social factors. Changes in melatonin, staying up too late, and getting distracted by TV and computers all contribute to this lack of sufficient sleep.

Researchers are recruiting secondary school students from across the country to take part in their study. Lead researcher from the University of Birmingham, Professor Paul Montgomery, states how they want ‘people to be aware that sleep deprivation in adolescents is a real problem which affects their functioning, their well-being, and even their academic performance’.

Speaking about the programme, Professor Montgomery added, ‘we want to work with parents, pupils, teachers, head teachers, support staff, local education authorities, and civil servants to run a number of studies to find out what the ideal starting time is, and how schools can manage this’.

The stated aims of the project are to communicate the researchers’ results and assess: 1) how feasible it might be to change school start times in practice, 2) the potential differences in mental health and academic outcomes for teenagers whose school start time changes to those whose school start times does not change, and 3) the cost of making these changes.

The study is aimed at a particular group of students, those currently in Years 10 and 11 (GCSE level). Secondary schools are being encouraged to get in touch with researchers if they would like to be a part of the programme, and help discuss what needs to be done in order for later starting times at school to become a reality.

Schools are also being encouraged to look out for any problems that their pupils may be experiencing such as over-tiredness, and try to address these issues through improving their alertness and mental well-being. This website discusses how schools can get involved and help implement change.