The closure of schools in the spring of 2020 had a negative effect on the health and well-being of many young people. But home schooling also had a positive downside: Thanks to longer sleep in the morning, many teens reported improved health and health-related quality of life. The authors of the study from the University of Zurich therefore believe that school days should start later in the morning.
The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic led to the closure of all schools nationwide from March 13 to June 6, 2020. According to numerous studies, symptoms of depression and anxiety among young people increased during this period, while satisfaction and the quality of life have decreased. The schoolchildren were also less physically active and spent more time sitting in front of the screens.
Now, a study from the University of Zurich (UZH) has shown that the homeschooling phase has also had a positive effect on the health and well-being of many teenagers. “The students slept about 75 minutes more a day during the block. At the same time, their health-related quality of life improved significantly and their alcohol and caffeine consumption decreased,” says the co-leader. of the Oskar Jenni study, UZH professor of developmental pediatrics. Since they no longer had to go to school, they could get up later.
Sleeping more on school days improves the health-related quality of life of young people
The researchers conducted an online survey of 3,664 high school students from the Canton of Zurich during the lockdown, asking about their sleep patterns and quality of life. They then compared the responses with a 2017 survey of 5,308 young participants. The results showed that during the three months that the schools were closed, the teens got up about 90 minutes later on school days, but only went to bed on average 15 minutes later, which means that their quantity total sleep increased by approximately 75 minutes per day. On the weekends, there was little difference in the sleep times of the two groups.
Students in the blocking group rated their health-related quality of life higher, and the amount of alcohol and caffeine they reported consumed was lower than in the pre-pandemic group.
Although the blockade has clearly led to a deterioration in the health and well-being of many young people, our findings reveal a positive aspect of school closures that have received little attention so far. “
Oskar Jenni, UZH Professor of Developmental Pediatrics
Unique opportunity to investigate the effect of subsequent school start times
Sleep deficits in teens can lead to general fatigue, anxiety, and physical ailments. These in turn have a detrimental effect on cognitive functions such as concentration, memory and attention, making it much more difficult to function in everyday life. The early start of the school day in Switzerland conflicts with the natural and biologically determined sleep habits of adolescents. Because they have to get up early to go to school, many young people suffer from a chronic lack of sleep. The topic has recently entered the political agenda in several cantons of the country.
“Our results clearly indicate the benefit of starting school later in the morning so that young people can sleep more,” says Jenni. He speculates that the positive effects on health and health-related quality of life would have been even greater had the pandemic’s negative effects on mental health not also been present.
Alberto, JN, et al. (2022) Association between home education and adolescent sleep duration and health during high school closure pandemic COVID-19. Open JAMA network. doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.42100.