Will late school times in Dubai give children more sleep?

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If school times were delayed, children would get more sleep and traffic would ease, impacting student performance and economic growth.

Sleep. It’s something that every living creature needs to function properly. But according to an edit in the New York Times recently, there’s actually an economic case for letting kids sleep a little later.

Not only is it better for health and academic performance, research shows how the impact of more sleep goes far beyond that. It can increase future salary earnings and reduce road traffic accidents too.

So again, it begs the question: should school start times be pushed back here? For many parents in Dubai, the idea of delaying school by one hour is more of a “logistical need” than a personal want. But Khaleej Times also explored the economical impact of starting school later.

According to a Brookings Institution policy brief from 2011 (cited in the New York Times edit on September 13, 2017), medical research documents important changes in the circadian rhythm during adolescence. What is witnessed during that change is a shift in children’s internal clocks, to later bed and wake times.

As such, it found that the academic benefit of later start times in school would be equivalent to about “two additional months of schooling”; that’s because academic performance increases. And subsequently, that can add about $17,500 to a student’s future earnings potential.

Additionally, a systematic review titled: ‘Delayed school start times and adolescent sleep’ (US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health), showed that when school start times were delayed by 60 minutes, sleep time increased by 77 minutes per weeknight. Meaning students got more sleep.

Need for sleep

With the return to school season in full flow here, parents and students across the city have found themselves being forced out of their beds by the dreaded alarm clock. With most schools starting between 7.30 am and 8 am, a 5.30 to 6 am rise is the daily norm for most parents Khaleej Times spoke to.

With campuses spread out across the city, long school commutes add hours to most students’ days. Couple that with the already early start time for schools here, early rises are unavoidable.

But if school times were delayed, commutes would ease – as well as peak time traffic; a factor which could directly impact both student performance and economic growth.

A previous statement by Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the board of executive directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), cited the “geographical distribution of schools” as one of the biggest challenges in Dubai’s school transport sector.

To ease that challenge, Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE told Khaleej Times he supports the idea of a staggered approach to school start hours. “(There are many) options to reduce the overall traffic load in the morning and afternoon peak times. ‘Flexi hours’ for schools (and offices) can certainly play an important role.”

A quick insight

“When children are tired or short of sleep, it impacts on their body’s ability to stabilise their mood and can intensify negative emotions. Studies suggest that younger children who have less than 10 hours sleep per night are less likely to do as they are told. In school, too little sleep will affect a child’s concentration, memory and accuracy and there, negatively impact performance.” – Esra Uzsayilir, educational psychologist, kidsFIRST Medical Center

‘Sleep duration more important, not wake up time’

Although the right amount of sleep has been shown improve academic performance, one sleep specialist Khaleej Times spoke to said this “does not automatically warrant a later school start time”.

Dr Sherif Fayed, pulmonologist and sleep specialist at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai said kids need to have energy, the ability to focus, concentrate, retain information, and be creative problem solvers in order to thrive academically.

“All these skills do depend heavily on healthy, consistent sleep.”

But, from a medical perspective, he does not agree that a later school start time will directly impact school performance. “As long as a child is getting the right amount of sleep, they should be able to function well. The normal person should sleep 8-13 hours/day. It decrease gradually from preschool children up to teenagers. This is based on multi-centre research.”

Additionally, an extra hour’s sleep at bedtime – and not in the morning – is more beneficial, from his point of view.

“What we have learnt in medical school and from medical textbooks is that you need to sleep at night and work during the day. That’s because sunlight releases melatonin, which stimulates the brain. So sleeping an extra hour in the morning, during daylight hours, is not the solution.”

However, he said in a city like Dubai, he can see the economic impact of schools starting later, due to the direct correlation with peak hour traffic.

Flexi hours would ease traffic burden

It would be great if schools get something like a ‘flexi hours’ option. Schools could pick a starting time fitting their specific traffic situation and the needs of their students. This flexibility would benefit the kids, keeping their resting time and their bio-rhythms in mind. It would also ease the traffic burden on school buses and private cars transporting students during peak times in the morning and afternoon.

Traffic congestion brings out the worst in many road users, as stress levels increase. Questions like ‘will I make it on time to the school/office/appointment?’, in turn often results in reckless and inconsiderate behaviour like bullying, speeding, tailgating and so on. Hence, all options to reduce the overall traffic load in morning and afternoon peak times should be considered. ‘Flexi hours’ for schools (and offices) can certainly play an important role.

– Thomas Edelmann, founder & managing director, RoadSafetyUAE

Some school start times in Dubai:

Greenfield Community School – 7:45am

Uptown School – 7:45am

Gems Wellington International – 7:45am

Al-Mizhar American Academy – 7:45am

Dubai American Academy – 7:55am

Gems Wellington Al Khail – 7:45am

Source: Khaleej Times