Let them hit snooze: Sleeping in helped teenagers cope with pandemic stress, study finds
A groggy, grumbling 16-year-old stumbles out of bed after a long bout of hitting the snooze button. School starts at 8 a.m. sharp; like a zombie, he shuffles to his first class of the day, bleary-eyed and undercaffeinated.
It’s a teenage stereotype we’re all familiar with.
But how might things change if that teenager were given the opportunity to sleep in? What would happen if going to school meant walking to the kitchen table, not the bus?
These questions were explored in a new McGill study that analyzed how studying from home during the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the sleep habits of adolescents.
The study, published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, found that teens were better rested during the pandemic — a finding which the study’s lead author found rather surprising.
“We thought they would sleep less or [would] be suffering in their sleep, but they actually slept longer,” said Dr. Reut Gruber, who is a psychiatry professor at McGill.
Researchers assessed the sleep patterns of 62 adolescents from January 15 to March 13, 2020, and then from May 15 to June 30, 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing.
The study found that the bedtime and wake-up time of teens shifted by roughly two hours.
According to the study, teenagers typically have what’s called a delayed biological rhythm, meaning they have a natural tendency to fall asleep and wake up at later hours.
Gruber explains that the elimination of a morning commute allowed students to follow the cues of their “biological clocks.”
In addition to this, fewer social obligations and extracurricular activities meant teenagers weren’t required to sacrifice their sleeping hours to catch up on homework.
SLEEP, THE ULTIMATE STRESS-BUSTER
The pandemic was undoubtedly an anxiety-inducing time for many teenagers.
“This has been a major challenge, the high levels of stress, the mental-health challenges,” said Gruber.
But the study found that by getting extra rest, teens were more equipped to deal with the stress of COVID-19 — a finding which should encourage schools to modify school start times, according to Gruber.
“Why don’t we do something to make sure that we protect their sleep?” she implored.
As it turns out, that grumpy, sleep-deprived teenager might be feeling high levels of stress and anxiety that could be mitigated by some extra Zz's.