BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Your alarm blares louder and more violently than it ever before. As you crawl out of the warm covers of your bed, you muster up all the strength in your body just to get dressed for another school day. As you’re eating your morning cereal, your eyes begin to droop and your head starts to tip forward. You nearly fall asleep at the wheel when driving to school. And finally, when you’re sitting down in your first period class, it hits you. You just can’t take it anymore, and your head crashes on your desk as you immediately slip back into a peaceful, deep slumber.
One of the biggest issues among adolescents today is sleep deprivation. Kids are constantly sleep deprived at school, and at what cost? Why are kids so tired at school every day? It eventually always boils down to one thing: absurdly early school start times. These early start times can seriously affect a student’s ability to learn and be active in a school environment.
First, to understand why school start times are in fact too early for adolescents and their sleep schedules, one must understand the basics of sleep itself. It is common knowledge that people sleep for a third of their lives. It is obviously a necessity for humans to function normally on a daily basis, but in order to recognize possible problems with one’s sleep schedule, it is defined in two ways. According to the Journal of Advanced Nursing, the first state of sleep is when you “fall asleep,” or a “state of reduced responsiveness to external stimuli.” This is the stage of sleep where one can be woken up if provoked enough. The second state of sleep is more complicated. In a day, one has a circadian rhythm or cycle, which is one’s daily waking up to a sleep schedule, until they wake up again. It is the most inactive, unresponsive portion of the circadian cycle, and if altered or tampered with (i.e. school start times that are too early), this cycle can severely affect one’s ability to stay awake during the day.
Sleep deprivation is often an issue with many people around the world, but the issue is most highlighted among tired adolescents in school who end up declining in terms of school skills because of it. According to the same Journal of Advanced Nursing, common effects of sleep deprivation include stress due to small changes in hormones, as well as an overall increase in antisocial and negative, anger-fueled behavior. The Journal of School Health conducted a 2013 study to see if there was a relationship between school violence from students and sleep deprivation. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found that 69 percent of adolescents reported insufficient sleep, and of those who reported sleep insufficiency (less than eight hours of sleep per night), 20.94 percent of students bullied at school in the last 12 months compared to 17.18 percent of students getting more than eight hours of sleep per night.
Solutions to these problems all lead back to the time that school starts every day. As of now, kids in school, mainly adolescents in middle to high school, are being heavily affected by these early start times. According to the National Comorbidity Survey – Adolescent Supplement between 2001 and 2004, which The American Journal of Public Health reported on in 2015, a sample of 9,244 adolescents aged thirteen to seventeen in the U.S. were polled. First, the survey accounted for different variables such as age, sex, and all different start times that were ultimately averaged out. Then it was found that only 26 percent of adolescents (average of 23 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys) obtain the recommended amount of nightly sleep by the National Sleep Foundation during the week. Overall, it was concluded that students with later start times gained more sleep per weeknight, despite possibly going to bed later than those with early start times. It was also concluded that there was no difference among adolescents with early and late start times regarding making up for any lost weeknight sleep on weekends, i.e. kids with early start times who get less sleep during the week don’t sleep more than those with later start times on weekends. So, with both those findings, the Journal was able to conclude that there is definite sleep loss among kids who start school too early. Some argue, however, that later school times come with more negatives than positives. For example, it takes time away from after school activities like sports or clubs because the school day ends later. Also, for some students, a later start time actually incentivizes more laziness because they spend more time asleep, but ultimately this is extremely rare. The comprehensive research conducted and health benefits of later start times definitely outweigh the possible negative effects.
Overall, sleep is absolutely necessary for adolescents to succeed in school. It affects their ability to learn and perform both in and out of the classroom. The dreaded Monday morning alarm is one of the worst things a teenager can hear, especially when it’s too early. These studies prove that early start times have a seriously negative effect on adolescents and that they need to be changed. Later school start times could have wildly positive outcomes on both a student’s propensity to learn, as well as their overall behavior and well-being. Some school districts have already started experimenting with or fully implementing these policies. For example, Shaker Heights School District in Shaker Heights, Ohio has been experimenting with one day a week late starts for the past few years and is close to implementing this policy to more or all days of the week, due to the positive effects on the students, according to current administration. And if more schools continue to utilize these later start times, it is a giant step in the right direction for the well-being and health of adolescent students.