Finding the positive in distance learning

The move to distance learning as a result of the pandemic led to may negative impacts on the lives of children, but a new report indicates that there may have been at least one positive: better sleep duration for teenagers.

The move to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic led to many potential issues including lack of access to support programs and lack of access to food programs as well as a lack of socialization. However, is it possible that there may have been some positives from the move to remote learning, such as more sleep? A report examined whether teenagers had increased sleep as a result of distance learning and if this sleep improvement led to better health characteristics.1

The investigators performed a survey study that sent cross-sectional online surveys to students attending 21 public high school in Zurich, Switzerland. They compared a control sample who completed the survey from May to July 2017 and a sample during the lockdown from May to June 2020. The survey asked questions about sleep-wake patterns, health-related quality of life, substance use including caffeine, and depressive symptoms. Surveys were included in the study as long as they provided sex, age, and school.

A total of 8972 students were included in the sample, with 5308 in the control sample and 3664 were in the lockdown sample. Both subcohorts had a median age of 16 years and skewed female. The investigators found that during the lockdown, the sleep period on school days was 75 minutes longer (semipartial R2 statistic [R2β*], 0.238; 95% CI, 0.222-0.254; P < .001). Students reported less consumption of alcohol (R2β*, 0.014; 95% CI, 0.008-0.022; P < .001) and caffeine (R2β*, 0.010; 95% CI, 0.006-0.015; P < .001). They also reported better health-related quality of life. Overall, longer sleep duration was tied to less consumption of caffeine (R2β*, 0.013; 95% CI, 0.009-0.019; P < .001) as well as better health-related quality of life (R2β*, 0.027; 95% CI, 0.020-0.034; P < .001). The investigators also looked at depressive symptoms and its link to health-related quality of life in the lockdown subcohort and found an inverse association (R2β*, 0.285; 95% CI, 0.260-.0311; P < .001) as well as a positive association with caffeine consumption (R2β*, 0.003; 95% CI, 0.000-0.008; P = .01).

The investigators concluded that there were 2 effects of school closures and adolescent health and both were in opposition: a negative impact on psychological health and a positive impact as a result of increased sleep duration. Not only should the findings be considered when determining the need for and starting school closures, but they provide further support for delaying the school start time for teenagers.

Reference

1. Albrecht J, Warner H, Rieger N, et al. Association between homeschooling and adolescent sleep duration and health during COVID-19 pandemic high school closures. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2142100. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.42100