Pandemic Shows “Delaying School Start May Help” Support Teenage Mental Health


Sleep Health | Sleep Review

While poor sleep has been linked to higher levels of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, more teens actually received the recommended amount of sleep compared to pre-pandemic sleep patterns, according to a new study from McGill University. Changes to daily routines triggered by bans allowed teenagers to follow their biological impulse to wake up and fall asleep later, reducing daytime sleepiness.

The study, published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, examines pre-pandemic sleep behavior and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the researchers, promoting better sleep habits could help reduce teenagers’ stress levels and improve their ability to cope with crisis situations.

“The pandemic has shown that postponing back school could help and should be implemented by schools interested in supporting the mental health of their students,” says lead author Reut Gruber, PhD, Full Professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry University, na publication.

Reducing stress by promoting more sleep

During the pandemic, teenagers’ wake-up and sleep times shifted around two hours later. Many young people also slept longer and had less need to catch up on lost sleep on the weekend.

The elimination of the morning commute, delayed school start and the cancellation of extracurricular activities enabled teenagers to follow their “delayed biological rhythm” – or their natural tendency to wake up and go to bed later, the researchers explain.

These changes meant that teenagers had more “usable hours” during the week to do their homework and not have to miss out on sleep in order to fulfill their commitments during the week. Similar results were reported in several countries around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less sleep combined with higher stress

The researchers found a link between the amount of sleep teenagers got before the pandemic and their perceived stress levels during the pandemic.

“A shorter sleep duration and a higher level of arousal before bed were associated with higher stress, while longer sleep and lower arousal before bed were associated with less stress,” says Gruber, who is also director of the attention, behavior and sleep laboratory at Douglas Research Center.

“The tendency for teenagers not to get enough sleep was a global problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now more important than ever to address the problem, ”said co-author Sujata Saha, principal of the Riverside School Board’s Heritage Regional High School, in a press release. “The pandemic has increased the level of insecurity and psychological stress around the world. Today’s heightened mental health challenges are predicted to continue well beyond the pandemic. “

“Not getting enough sleep and being overly stimulated before bed are bad habits that can be changed. We can address these behaviors with preventative measures to reduce teenagers’ stress in the face of overwhelming situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, ”says Gruber.

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