New research challenges federal guidelines that encourage high school students to receive nine hours of sleep a night.
The Brigham Young University study found that 16- to 18-year-olds perform better academically when they sleep for 7 hours.
“We’re not talking about sleep deprivation,” said study author Eric Eide. “The data simply says that seven hours is optimal at that age.”
The new study by Eide and fellow BYU economics professor Mark Showalter is the first in a series of studies where they examine sleep and its impact on health and education.
Current federal guidelines are based on studies where teens were simply told to keep sleeping until they felt satisfied.
“If you used that same approach for a guideline on how much people should eat, you would put them in a well-stocked pantry and just watch how much they ate until they felt satisfied,” Showalter said.
“Somehow that doesn’t seem right.”
BYU investigators attempted to devise a scientific study that matched the amount of sleep to academic performance or productivity.
Analyzing data from a representative sample of 1,724 primary and secondary school students across the country, they found a strong relationship between the amount of sleep youths got and how they fared on standardized tests.
But more sleep isn’t always better. As they report in the Eastern Economics Journal, the right amount of sleep decreases with age:
- The optimal for 10-year-olds is 9 – 9.5 hours;
- The optimal for 12-year-olds is 8 – 8.5 hours;
- The optimal for 16-year-olds is 7 hours.
“We don’t look at it just from a ‘your kid might be sleeping too much’ perspective,” Eide said.
“From the other end, if a kid is only getting 5.5 hours of sleep a night because he’s overscheduled, he would perform better if he got 90 minutes more each night.”
The size of the effect on test scores depends on a number of factors, but an 80-minute shift toward the optimum is comparable to the child’s parents completing about one more year of schooling.
“Most of our students at BYU, especially those that took early-morning seminary classes in high school, are going to realize that 9 hours of sleep isn’t what the top students do,” Showalter said.
Source: Brigham Young University