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Winnebeck, Eva C.; Vuori-Brodowski, Maria T.; Biller, Anna M.; Molenda, Carmen; Fischer, Dorothee; Zerbini, Giulia; Roenneberg, Till (2020): Later school start times in a flexible system improve teenage sleep. In: Sleep, Vol. 43, No. 6, zsz307
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Sleep deprivation in teenage students is pervasive and a public health concern, but evidence is accumulating that delaying school start times may be an effective countermeasure. Most studies so far assessed static changes in schools start time, using cross-sectional comparisons and one-off sleep measures. When a high school in Germany introduced flexible start times for their senior students-allowing them to choose daily between an 8 am or 9 am start (>= 08:50)-we monitored students' sleep longitudinally using subjective and objective measures. Students (10-12th grade, 14-19 y) were followed 3 weeks prior and 6 weeks into the flexible system via daily sleep diaries (n = 65) and a subcohort via continuous wrist-actimetry (n = 37). Satisfaction and perceived cognitive outcomes were surveyed at study end. Comparisons between 8 am and >= 9 am-starts within the flexible system demonstrated that students slept 1.1 h longer when starting school later-independent of gender, grade, chronotype, and frequency of later starts;sleep offsets were delayed but, importantly, onsets remained unchanged. Sleep quality was increased and alarm- driven waking reduced. However, overall sleep duration in the flexible system was not extended compared to baseline-likely because students did not start later frequently enough. Nonetheless, students were highly satisfied with the flexible system and reported cognitive and sleep improvements. Therefore, flexible systems may present a viable alternative for implementing later school starts to improve teenage sleep if students can be encouraged to use the late-option frequently enough. Flexibility may increase acceptance of school start changes and speculatively even prevent delays in sleep onsets through occasional early starts.