School or Sleep. Why must we choose?

November 6, 2009
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
In a country that is searching for answers as to why its children are not performing at top capacity, it seems fairly obvious that one of those answers may be found in the time at which they start their school day. For any parent who has looked with pity upon their teenage children as they drag themselves, glassy-eyed, and bedraggled, out of bed at 6 AM each day, there is a way to help. Do some deluging of your own and bombard your school board with well-researched pleas for a later start to the high school day. Not only will our students be healthier and more successful at tasks in school, they will become nicer individuals.

The National Center on Sleep Disorders has published studies explaining that once a child goes through puberty, the body’s circadian rhythm changes. An eight or nine year old is physically capable of falling asleep at 9:00 P.M., but a teen over the age of thirteen has already gone through a circadian rhythm shift, in which the natural hormone Melatonin is not released until later at night, leaving them unable to fall asleep until 11:00 P.M. or 12 A.M. This creates the scenario of teens receiving no more than six to six and a half hours of sleep a night, when research shows that they need a minimum of nine to eleven hours. Combine this with the stress of constant testing, heavy course loads, after school clubs, jobs and research internships and you get a very stressed out, unhealthy young ‘next generation.’ Who can blame them for being cranky?

The following list outlines the key points in the debate for a later school day.

Weight Gain: When one goes to sleep early, one produces specific chemicals that inhibit weight loss. The body views sleep loss as stress, and stress encourages people to want to eat carbs, like pasta, bread, or potato chips. Sleep deprivation lowers leptin levels (a chemical which indicates body fat and fullness), and raises ghrelin levels (a chemical which induces hunger and reduces satiation levels). The body reacts in this way because it sees sleep loss as a major source of stress. The association between sleep deprivation and obesity seems to be strongest in young-adults. According to the online library system, GALE, several important studies using nationally representative samples suggest that the obesity problem in the United States might have teen sleep loss as a major factor.

(2) Disease: The health detriment to teens is actually quite frightening. A 1999 study

discovered that 11 healthy students who slept only four hours per night for six nights showed insulin and blood sugar levels similar to those of people "on the verge of diabetes." Equally impressive studies demonstrate rise in heart disease and blood pressure in young people who are sleep deprived.

Better Grades: lack of sleep affects a student’s cognitive state, making it difficult to focus on the details of a class, and adversely affecting memory. Studies have shown that schools who moved their start times from 7:30 A.M. to 8:10 A.M., and especially those schools whose days begin at 9:00 AM, have noticeably better and more alert students. In these schools, 90% of the student populous move up a full grade, and those who are already in the A-range become more energetic and creative. (APA Monitor) Apparently the high level thinking that becomes impaired with sleep loss returns with an extra one and a half to two hours of sleep.

This should not be surprising as numerous studies from medical schools like the University of California at San Diego (2000) have determined that the brains of otherwise healthy teens had to work harder to achieve less when sleep-deprived.

In the year that the new high school schedule was implemented for the schools involved in the above study, teachers found that more of the curriculum was able to be taught in a single period. Even the teachers themselves seemed more involved and animated, according to an anonymous survey. After all, teaching is partially a performance art, and a performer can only be as good as his or her audience. If people in the audience are sleeping, it cuts down on some of the performer’s enthusiasm!

Sports: Sleep is a natural steroid. It boosts stamina and energy, but best of all, it doesn’t hurt the body like anabolic steroids. The more sleep someone gets, the more likely they are to succeed, and even excel in sports. Imagine what nine hours a night could do for the high school football team?

Personality: As someone who has personally experienced this debilitating loss of sleep, I can safely say that on the days when I lose a lot of sleep, I am a very grumpy and unapproachable individual.

Parents and teachers say that they want teens to communicate with them, but high school students are communicating on a daily basis: through their anxiety, frustration, constant colds and illness, short tempers, and need for isolation—just to recuperate from battling an exhausting day on six hours of sleep. The Government is so concerned about keeping students in school for more hours—how about allowing teens to begin their school day more rested so they can perform in a more focused, energetic manner? 9:00 A.M. –it’s such a nice round number.

Join the Discussion

This article has 319 comments. Post your own now!

pinksage33 said...
Jan. 9, 2010 at 7:19 am
Thank you for wrighting this article. i have not slept well in days and last night I didn't sleep at all so I get what you are saying!!!
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 10, 2010 at 10:59 am
Agreed! Let the Homework/Sleep Revolution begin!
rjwhat? said...
Jan. 5, 2010 at 10:48 am
Okay, will someone tell me why this article isn't in the actual magazine? there is so much that's subpar in there, and this is great, factual and speaks to all of us. Thanks for writing it...and PUBLISHERS! Publish this!
babblebrook said...
Jan. 5, 2010 at 10:46 am
Great! This article says it all. How can they even think of taking away our summers? It's what makes working hard worthwile. said...
Jan. 3, 2010 at 12:21 am
Hurray for this article! Sign me up for that petition you're talking about. There is no sense in having kids working till 2 AM and getting up at 6 AM while simultaneously expecting them to pull top grades. Get real, America!
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm
Agreed.America needs to start using their minds and begin to think about the children and their education.
tonytroy said...
Dec. 30, 2009 at 8:41 am
I see this article is close to everyone's hearts. We're all so exhausted and overworked in high school. Perhaps if the colleges allowed high school students to take no more than 2 AP courses, just so they could get a taste of college classes, it would be different. Most of us can manage to finish our work by midnight in honors classes, but when you force us to take 3, 4, 5 or more're asking too much, guys--and you're leading us down the path of 4 hours of sleep a ni... (more »)
phoenixqueen replied...
Jan. 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm
No one is forcing me to take three AP classes, i just am and i have 2 B's and an A in them, so it isn't too difficult to get good grades. Even for those who have jobs, it isn't impossible. I have a job that takes up my time from 4:30 to 9:30 tuesday through thursday, and i manage well enough. it is all about managing time.
tonytroy replied...
Jan. 6, 2010 at 9:40 am
Well, if we want to get into top rung colleges, especially the Ivies, they won't even look at you without a handful of APs...and I'm talking about grades of "A" in all of them; otherwise you might as well take an Honors course and get an A. The schools make money pushing the APs, and we're stuck trying to achieve "As" in those classes if we want the carrot at the end. And I don't know about your school, but at ours, the teachers are not looking for ways t... (more »)
phoenixqueen replied...
Jan. 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm
I guess it must be different at different schools. At my school, they don't push APs as much. Yes, they like it if you take them, but you don't have too. And I think that grading APs harder is part of preparing you for college. I notice a lot more things that I do wrong and can improve upon when my teachers grade my papers harsher than in the classes that I am not taking AP.
getwiththeprogram replied...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 8:02 am
Here's the problem, phoenixqueen, In schools that expect the best students to be taking 5-6 APs per year beginning in junior year, plus 2 in sophomore year, there should at least be weighting of grades...some way of telling their students "good job" in a tough class. Because the colleges that we are looking at won't even look at us if we get Bs in our APs. They only want to see As in Ap classes. You're kicked out of the first group of admissions analysis if you don'... (more »)
Luddy said...
Dec. 27, 2009 at 9:57 am
The most important article up on Teen Ink. This is a major issue. So when is this petition happening?
SoCal said...
Dec. 24, 2009 at 9:17 pm
So? U guys working on the petition this vacation? When are you notifying us?
Robcal said...
Dec. 21, 2009 at 9:52 am
I know I'll be giving it to my mom and asking her to walk it in to a board meeting or PTA meeting. It can't just stop with the administrators; it has to get to the board.
Lonnie12 said...
Dec. 21, 2009 at 9:50 am
You think anyone will listen to us when we do the petition? Who here is taking it to their principals?
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 21, 2009 at 4:15 pm
I will be taking both mine and Urbs essay to the board sometime in January.
Already have a meeting set up. Let the revolution begin!
Urbs2013 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm
Awesome Spaceking, and I say we should get this petition going.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm
How shall we contact eachother?
shakespeare'slost said...
Dec. 19, 2009 at 8:06 am
I agree. 9AM for all high school students. Think about how much more creative we'd be if we could actually think clearly!
gilligan11 said...
Dec. 19, 2009 at 8:04 am
Yep, this is one of the most important articles on line at Teen Ink now. We need to make our voices known, and if the magazine would publish your petition in the next edition, many teachers and admins. would see it.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 19, 2009 at 6:13 pm
And like Urbs and I said, our ideas go hand in hand. "The Homework Revolution" is about the quest for less homework. Less homework = more sleep. Shorter school day + less homework + more sleep= all around happy teenagers.
Site Feedback