Letting Students in Germany Start High School an Hour Later Showed Benefits

The teenage German students who took part in this were better rested and more alert for their academics. Teenagers generally need more sleep than adults and many find it difficult to go to sleep at earlier hours — there is clearly a significant benefit to having high schools start at later hours.

Society is in the midst of an epic sleep deprivation crisis, and some of the most affected people are teenagers, a broad body of sleep research shows.

Because of this, in recent decades researchers in the US and around the world have been investigating the potential benefits of starting the school day later. While initial results are promising, it’s still only early days for this field of research overall, given the limited number (and nature) of experiments conducted so far.

To date, most studies in this area have looked at the effects of making a static change in school start time (starting all classes for a group of students an hour later, for example). But what happens if you give kids a say in the matter, letting them choose what time they begin classes in the morning?

That’s what one high school in Germany did. Alsdorf high school (Gymnasium Alsdorf) in western Germany won an award for innovative teaching methods in 2013, and practises an educational system called the Dalton Plan, originally developed in the US.

The Dalton Plan calls for flexible teaching methods, tailored to students at a personal level, and helping children to learn at their own pace. Schools across the world use these principles, and for chronobiology researchers at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Alsdorf high school provided a unique chance to study how the system might be able to benefit sleep-deprived teenagers.

“We had the opportunity to study the effects of later school starting times when a high school in Germany decided to introduce flexible start times for their senior students,” the team, led by chronobiologist Till Roenneberg, explains in their paper.

“Instead of fixed starts at mostly 8 am, in this new flexible system, the senior students could decide whether to start at 8:00 am or at 8:50 am (referred to as ‘9 am’ herein for convenience) on a daily basis by attending or skipping the first period (a self-study period).”

For nine weeks in total in 2016, the researchers attempted to measure the effects of the system change on students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

While students in earlier grades still had to turn up for school at the standard time of 8 am, the older students were given the option of starting the day approximately one hour later for classes, in which case they had to make up the missed period (a self-study period) later in the week.

For the nine weeks (three prior to the system being introduced, and six weeks after the change), the researchers collected daily sleep diaries from the senior students taking part in the experiment, as well as collecting movement data from wrist-worn sleep monitor devices used by some of the students.

What the researchers found is that giving the students the ability to postpone their starting time even by only one hour gave them beneficial extra sleep time.

“In our study, virtually all participating students (97 percent) benefited from later start times, sleeping longer on schooldays with a ≥9 am-start – on average students gained one hour of sleep on those days,” the authors write.

“Importantly, not only was the overall benefit universal but also the magnitude of the benefit was similar across the important factors chronotype, gender, grade, and frequency of later starts.”

That’s an important finding, because even though it may seem obvious that students electing to attend school one hour later would get one hour more sleep, it’s also thought that later school times can encourage students to stay up later at night before school, negating the benefits of the sleep-in.

That didn’t happen here, though, with students on average sleeping 1.1 hours longer than they normally did on mornings where they attended classes later, increasing from 6.9 hours of sleep on average to 8 hours of sleep.

“One of the greatest concerns regarding later school starts is that teenagers might be tempted to stay up even later in the evening either consciously or via delayed circadian rhythms from later exposure to advancing morning light,” the authors explain.

“In our study, however, there was no evidence that sleep onset times differed between ≥9 am-days and 8 am-days.”

What did surprise the researchers was how little the students opted to take advantage of the late start. Overall, the students only chose to start late 39 percent of the time, roughly two days out of five in terms of a regular school week.

Nonetheless, when students did start later, they rated themselves as enjoying higher-quality sleep, and survey responses at the end of the experiment suggested they felt less tired, could concentrate better during class, and felt an improved ability to study at home after school as well.

Of course, all of those outcomes are self-reported, as were other data in the study, such as things like naps, which may have been non-declared or under-reported – limitations that the researchers acknowledge.

At the same time, there are obviously some hugely important takeaways from the experiment, which suggest students like being given the choice of when they start school in the morning (in addition to simply getting more shut-eye).

“On days with a later start, students have the opportunity to sleep longer. This should reduce the accumulation of sleep debt during the week,” the authors conclude.

“In addition, especially important for practical applications, students prefer the flexible system and their subjective parameters are improved.”

The findings are reported in Sleep.

Gratitude in the Workplace Improves Employee Health

It turns out that making people feel valued goes a long way.

If you knew that expressing gratitude to a colleague would improve their life and yours, would you do it more often?

A new study by Portland State University researchers — business professor David Cadiz, psychology professor Cynthia Mohr, and Alicia Starkey, a recent Ph.D. graduate in psychology — together with Clemson State University professor Robert Sinclair, exhibits a positive relationship between expressed workplace gratitude, physical health and mental health.

The study, “Gratitude reception and physical health: Examining the mediating role of satisfaction with patient care in a sample of acute care nurses,” shows that being thanked more often at work predicted better sleep, fewer headaches and healthier eating, because it improved nurses’ work satisfaction.

Improving Self-Care in a Stressful Work Environment

The study involved a group of Oregon nurses, a profession that has a particularly high rate of burnout. Cadiz discusses the findings and how applying the research can have a significant impact on quality of life and job retention by preventing stress-related illnesses and disease.

“Nurses tend to have a thankless job. It’s very physical, and they’re often being screamed at by patients who are at their lowest. When nurses receive gratitude, it boosts them,” Cadiz explains.

“This type of study helps us understand how to keep nurses in the workforce in a healthy way. Nurses strongly align their profession with their identity and often look out for patients more than themselves. The gratitude matches up with their identity, gives them satisfaction in a job well done and ultimately increases self-care.”

Many people inherently connect their identity to their job and feelings of appreciation within their roles. Employers who understand and react to this can create positive social and economic change.

Gratitude is Good Business

From an organizational, policy and leadership perspective, Cadiz says that employers should create formal or informal opportunities for people to express gratitude. Including gratitude in a business plan is an essential step that many business leaders miss, and that omission can have financial consequences.

“Employees that receive positive feedback are healthier, and that can impact the bottom line,” adds Cadiz. “Preventing headaches and other stress-related symptoms means fewer sick days, and, in this case, cuts down the cost of replacement nurses and overtime pay.”

These small changes can have a dramatic fiscal impact over time, which can result in more staff, better pay rates and increased benefits.

The big takeaway — express gratitude when you see someone doing a good job. A positive feedback loop impacts you and those around you, and can ultimately shape a healthier and happier community.

Research Into Optimal Sleep Positions

Apparently sleeping on one’s back is supposedly most beneficial to health, according to this research.

Sometimes we wake up groggy even though we’ve gone to bed on time and had a solid eight hours of sleep.

Experts say it could be down to your sleeping position – sleeping on your back is supposedly the best position, but ultimately, comfort is key.

There’s no longer any doubt that sleep is incredibly important. But it’s not just about getting enough sleep, it’s also about trying to stick to a sleep schedule that is in tune with your body clock, or circadian rhythm.

If people are out of sync, they can wake up feeling groggy, and find it difficult to focus the next day. But even when you think you’ve done everything right – you went to bed on time and got a good eight hours of sleep – you may still wake up tired and irritable.

According to sleep experts, this could be because of the way you’re sleeping.

Shelby Harris, a sleep medicine expert and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Popular Science that if your sleeping position isn’t working for you, there are things you can do to change it.

Most people sleep on their sides, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but this position can cause shoulder and hip pain. Also, sleeping on your right side may even aggravate heartburn, some research found.

The theory is that a muscle in your esophagus that keeps acid in your stomach and out of your throat is loosened by the position, so some acid creeps up and causes a burning sensation. If you sleep on your left side, this muscle keeps the gap shut.

Harris said you should try sleeping on your left side if you get heartburn. Also, you should buy pillows that are thick enough to support your head, and tuck a pillow under your knees to support your lower back.

The absolute worst sleeping position, Harris said, is lying on your stomach. Only 7 percent of people do this, but it puts pressure on your entire body. You’re likely to wake up with numbness and tingling, and it can increase the chance of muscle and joint pain.

To make it easier on your body, Harris said you can use a flatter pillow to reduce neck strain.

The best position is sleeping on your back, which only 8 percent of people do. It’s the best position for reducing aches and pain, and it doesn’t cause heartburn because your head is elevated above your chest.

Of course, lying on your back increases the risk of snoring. If you’re prone to sleep apnea, it might not be the position for you, although there are exercises you can try to reduce snoring.

If you’d like to change your style, Harris said you can put pillows on both sides of your body, and one under your knees. This should stop you moving around too much.

If this doesn’t work, you can sew a tennis ball into the lining of your shirt, so the discomfort makes you flip back over if you try and turn.

“Although it is commonly recommended that sleeping on your back is the best position to sleep in, comfort is key,” Harris said. “If you’re in pain or uncomfortable from your sleep position, it can definitely impact your sleep quality.”

So if you find you’re often waking up groggy, and you’re not sure why, try changing your sleeping position.

New Research into Sleep’s Benefits to Memory

The research says that adequate sleep is helpful for using what’s learned from memories more efficiently.

Researchers at the University of York have shed new light on sleep’s vital role in helping us make the most of our memory.

Sleep, they show, helps us to use our memory in the most flexible and adaptable manner possible by strengthening new and old versions of the same memory to similar extents.

The researchers also demonstrate that when a memory is retrieved — when we remember something — it is updated with new information present at the time of remembering. The brain appears not to ‘overwrite’ the old version of the memory, but instead generates and stores multiple (new and old) versions of the same experience.

The results of the research, carried out at York’s Sleep, Language and Memory (SLAM) Laboratory, are presented in the journal Cortex today.

Lead researcher Dr Scott Cairney of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Previous studies have shown sleep’s importance for memory. Our research takes this a step further by demonstrating that sleep strengthens both old and new versions of an experience, helping us to use our memories adaptively.

“In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences.”

[…]

Corresponding author Professor Gareth Gaskell of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Our study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories.

“For the sleep group, we found that sleep strengthened both their memory of the original location as well as the new location. In this way, we were able to demonstrate that sleep benefits all the multiple representations of the same experience in our brain.”

The researchers point out that although this process helps us by allowing our memories to adapt to changes in the world around us, it can also hinder us by incorporating incorrect information into our memory stores.