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Flunking Sleepy Teenagers

Teenagers who go to bed late during the school year are more prone to academic and emotional difficulties in the long run. News item

A picture of some sleepy teenagers

Berkeley researchers claim that teenagers who stay up late underperform academically.

Unofficial reaction from stressed secondary teachers : ‘But, but, but…they’re docile! Sweet Jesus, don’t wake them UP!’


Teenagers who go to bed late during the school year are more prone to academic and emotional difficulties in the long run, compared to their earlier-to-bed counterparts, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

Berkeley researchers analyzed longitudinal data from a nationally representative cohort of 2,700 U.S. adolescents of whom 30 percent reported bedtimes later than 11:30 p.m. on school days and 1:30 a.m. in the summer in their middle and high school years.

By the time they graduated from high school, the school-year night owls had lower GPA scores, and were more vulnerable to emotional problems than teens with earlier bedtimes, according to the study published online Nov.10 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Healthy Sleep Cycle

On a positive note, Lauren Asarnow, lead author of the study, said the findings underscore how a healthy sleep cycle promotes the academic and emotional success of adolescents.

“The good news is that sleep behavior is highly modifiable with the right support,” said Asarnow, citing UC Berkeley’s Teen Sleep Study, a treatment program designed to reset the biological clocks of adolescents who have trouble going to sleep and waking up.

Focusing on three time periods – the onset of puberty, a year later and young adulthood – UC Berkeley researchers compared how the sleep habits of 2,700 teemagers aged 13-18 impacted their academic, social and emotional development. They looked at participants’ school transcripts and other education and health data.

Emotional Problems

While going to bed late in the summer did not appear to impact their academic achievement, including grades, researchers did find a correlation between later summer bedtimes and emotional problems in young adulthood.A picture of some sleepy teenagers

Surveys show that many teenagers do not get the recommended nine hours sleep a night, and report having trouble staying awake at school. The human circadian rhythm, which regulates physiological and metabolic functions, typically shifts to a later sleep cycle at the onset of puberty. UC Berkeley researchers theorize that an “evening circadian preference” in adolescence is a confluence of biological factors, as well as parental monitoring, academic and social pressures and the use of electronic gadgetry.

Electronic Devices

For example, bright lights associated with laptops, smartphones and other electronic devices have been found to suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle. UC Berkeley’s Teen Sleep Study uses dim lighting and limits technology before bedtime, among other interventions, to help reverse this night-owl tendency.

‘This very important study adds to the already clear evidence that youth who are night owls are at greater risk for adverse outcomes,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Allison Harvey, senior author of the paper. “Helping teens go to bed earlier may be an important pathway for reducing risk. This will not be an easy process. But here at Berkeley, our sleep coaches draw from the science of motivation, habit formation and sleep to help teens achieve earlier bedtimes.”

Source: University of California – Berkeley
Photo: Carl Byron Batson. Not to be reproduced without prior permission.

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