Recent research into teenage brain development has yielded surprising results. For many years it was thought that the adolescent brain was basically fully developed, however new and powerful brain imaging has revealed that the teenage years are a particularly crucial time for memory development and learning. It has also been discovered that sleep patterns have a great effect on maximizing their learning potential. Top private secondary schools in Toronto have taken note of these findings and have implemented changes in their schedules to help high school students excel.
Those of you with teenagers know that waking your adolescent in the morning can be very challenging! Yet almost all schools begin classes between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and end in the early to mid-afternoon. It's now known that sleep cycles shift forward during the teenage years, due to changes in the body's circadian rhythms. Sleep occurs after the hormone melatonin, which causes drowsiness, is released. An average adult's brain releases melatonin at around 9:00 p.m. Its effects wear off by early morning. During puberty, however, the effects of melatonin aren't felt until after 11:00 p.m. This delay means that a teen's natural inclination is to fall asleep later at night and to sleep later into the morning.
Since it's best to begin learning about two hours after waking, the optimal time for teenagers to learn is late in the morning through to late afternoon. An ideal school schedule for teens is a class timetable that starts at about 10:00 a.m. and continues until after 4:00 p.m.
While most school boards and administrators are aware of these sleep cycle discoveries, the vast majority of schools still require teenagers to be at school before 9:00 a.m. The Toronto District School Board has initiated a couple of pilot projects on the matter, but the public schools system is large and unwieldy and there are more pressing issues for the board to deal with. Most Toronto private schools have also stuck with early schedules, perhaps for the convenience of teachers or parents, but a few innovative private secondary schools in Toronto have made the change to a late-morning class start. These schools have observed a noticeable improvement in the academic performance of their teenage students, as well as a marked adjustment in students' morning energy and attitude. School administrators also note fewer incidences of late slips and absences.
When students get the optimum nine hours of sleep that is recommended by experts, they come to school ready to focus and to fully participate. They feel better about themselves and they function better on all levels. Parents and teachers note improvements in their social interactions and in their grade-point averages. It seems that the best secondary schools in Toronto have found one of the keys to unlocking student potential.
Ensuring that teens get enough sleep can have other equally important effects. Sleep deprivation is responsible for many common adolescent problems, for example depression, and it has been linked to an increased use of alcohol and drugs. Surprisingly, younger drivers are also more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than older drivers.
When selecting a school for your teen, remember that the early bird doesn't always get the worm! For most adolescents, later starts lead to greater success.