Sleep researchers evaluate later school start

Starting in the autumn term 2024, Engelbrektskolan in Borås will delay the start of the school day for 8th and 9th-grade pupils to 09:00, one hour later than usual. This initiative, which will run throughout the school year, will be monitored by sleep researcher Malin Jakobsson from the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University. The aim is to investigate how a later start time affects students' sleep, mental health, and academic performance. Previous studies in other countries have shown positive results, and researchers now hope to confirm these findings in a Swedish context.

Photo: Kaboompics

While there are already schools that start the school day at 09:00, this is the first occasion that a later start time will be evaluated in Sweden. This is a research project where the effect of the later start time is compared with a control school that maintains the usual start time of 08:00. Malin Jakobsson, assistant professor at the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University and an expert in sleep research, will lead the project.

"Evaluating a later start time in Sweden is so exciting! Engelbrektskolan is really proactive in wanting to test a later start time. They want to see if their students can handle school better and feel better," says Malin Jakobsson.

She describes how a later start time aligns with the biological changes that occur in adolescents after puberty, causing them to become tired later in the evening and more alert later in the morning.

Conducted with surveys and in-depth interviews

Malin Jakobsson (right) interviewing a student

The project will be conducted using surveys and in-depth interviews. Initial surveys have already been conducted, during the end of May and beginning of June, with the students who will start 8th and 9th grade in the autumn, to create a so-called baseline. The surveys will then be answered again in November 2024 and May 2025. To gain a deeper understanding of the adolescents' sleep habits and experiences in relation to their sleep, nearly 30 students from the intervention school were interviewed in June. These students will be interviewed again in a year to evaluate the project. Additionally, school staff and guardians will be included in the evaluation.

"Our student health team saw that more and more students are experiencing mental health issues, which negatively affects school attendance and academic results. After reading articles about studies suggesting that more sleep can prevent mental health issues, we wanted to try a later start time to see if students' well-being can be improved," says Helén Frick, Deputy Principal at Engelbrektskolan.

In preparation for the later start time, they contacted Malin Jakobsson, who had previously been at the school to research students' sleep habits.

"When Malin asked if we wanted to participate in research in connection with the later start time project, the answer was quite simple. If we can contribute more knowledge in this area, we definitely want to do so," says Helén Frick.

Investigating the impact of later start time on sleep and mental health

Researchers will investigate how the later start time affects, among other things, sleep, mental health, and cognitive functions in students. The goal is to confirm the positive results that previous international studies have shown, namely that an extra hour of sleep generates more sleep and improves both mental well-being and academic performance in teenagers.

"It's easy to think that a later start time just means that adolescents will stay up later in the evening. But research from other countries shows that adolescents who started school an hour later generally slept 45 minutes longer than before. We hope to see these positive results in Sweden as well. And we certainly hope that other schools will want to join the project in the future," says Malin Jakobsson.

To ensure comparable results, Bodaskolan in Borås will function as a control school where students start at the traditional time of around 08:00. Approximately 200–250 students from each school will participate in the study.

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