Reykjavík Delays School Start for Teens in Sleep Health Initiative

Reykjavík City Council has approved a three-year pilot project, starting in autumn 2024, to delay school start times for teenagers, Vísir reports. The initiative is the result of two studies led by Dr Erla Björnsdóttir on teen sleep duration.

Mental well-being on the decline

Following two studies on the sleep duration of teenagers in Reykjavík City primary schools, led by Dr Erla Björnsdóttir, the city council of Reykjavík has approved a three-year pilot project to delay the start of the school day for adolescents.

Beginning in the autumn of 2024, the school day for teenagers will start no earlier than 8:50 AM. Each school will be free to choose how best to adapt to this change, having the option of beginning the day later than 8:50 AM if it suits their school’s schedule.

Read More: Mad World, on Iceland’s Mental Health Crisis

In a statement from the City of Reykjavík, it was noted that despite increased awareness of the importance of sleep, many teenagers still do not get enough. Moreover, the number of those not sleeping sufficiently is growing annually.

“At the same time as more teenagers are sleeping too little, studies show that their mental well-being is deteriorating. It is clear that there are significant connections between sleep and mental health,” the statement notes.

As noted by Vísir, a working group was established to propose the implementation and details of this delay, leading to the decision described above.

Read More: Stop All the Clocks, on the too-fast Icelandic clock

Prime Minister Will “Sleep On” Proposal to Put Back the Clock

Sleepy in Reykjavík

A task force under the Prime Minister’s Office has released a comprehensive report on whether Iceland should put back its clock by one hour to align with its geographical position. The report presents three options for dealing with the negative effects of Iceland’s skewed clock. The Prime Minister told RÚV she will “sleep on it.”

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Borrowed time

Local time in Iceland corresponds to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). While in Greenwich itself, the sun reaches its highest point at 12.30, in Iceland it does so only at 1.30pm. Putting back the clock has popped up in public discussion and parliamentary proposals in recent years. While many worry that the current lack of morning light affects Icelanders’ health and productivity, others say changing the clock could be detrimental – not least for airline schedules and businesses.

Research has shown that Icelanders sleep too little, and the report points out the clock’s role in these findings: its skewed position disturbs the biological clock and encourages locals to go to bed later. This can have many negative effects on their health, including increasing the likelihood of depression and other illnesses, as well as affecting performance in school and at work. Iceland does not use daylight saving time and the report does not consider its implementation.

Three options given

The report proposes three options for dealing with these negative effects. The first is to maintain the status quo, but educate the public about the benefits of going to bed earlier. The second option is putting the clock black by one hour, which the task force asserts would improve performance in school among children and youth and reduce dropouts, as well as having a positive effect on the health and productivity of the general population. The third option presented in the report is to maintain the clock’s position but change school and work schedules so that classes and work hours begin later in the day. This option is seen to have more negative repercussions than positive, however, as it could cause scheduling problems within families with children and increased operational costs for businesses.

Opposing arguments

Airline companies and athletic associations have be among those who oppose the change. The former say it would cause confusion in flight schedules, while the latter say less daylight after school and work hours would reduce people’s outdoor activity in the afternoons. The report states, however, that the change would only decrease daylight during waking hours (7.00am-11.00pm) by 3-4% and decrease daylight between 3.00pm and 9.00pm by 13%.

Prime Minister will “sleep on it”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir states that although she was originally against changing the clock, research on the effect of sleep on people’s health has affected her stance. She adds that it’s impossible to ignore Icelanders’ widespread use of sleeping pills, which according to a recent assessment conducted by the Director of Health, far exceed rates in other Nordic countries. Katrín says, however, that she has yet to take a stance on the issue. “I will sleep on it,” she remarked.