Want a simple way to cut down teenage anxiety and depression across a community? Start school at 8:30am or later.

Earlier this month, researchers released the results of a study that showed adolescent students with school starting at 8:30am or later have better mental health than their earlier-starting counterparts.

You might think it’s because they’re getting more sleep, but that’s not necessarily true. Even when you just look at the students who are already getting enough sleep (between 8 and 10 hours), those with later start times were mentally healthier.

That’s not to say good “sleep hygiene” can’t help. For teenagers, healthy sleep means avoiding caffeine after 6pm, turning off electronics before bedtime, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep. Across the board, with early or late school starts, the teens who met those guidelines were less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Here’s what one of the researchers had to say:

“Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health. But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

Teenagers are going through a complicated time already, with brain development, hormones, and social pressures all bearing down on them constantly. If we can help them out by adjusting their school schedule, let’s do it.

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