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School or Sleep. Why must we choose?

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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.

(1)
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.

(3)
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!

(4)
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?

(5)
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 315 comments. Post your own!

audreysouth said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 9:24 am:
Yep, I'm with Charlotte. We need more than 5-6 hours of sleep to feel sharp and less grumpy.
 
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Memphis2013 said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 9:23 am:
Hey, count us in from Memphis on your petition. We're all for starting school at 9 AM.
I don't know any high school student who goes to sleep before midnight at least.
 
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jobear said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 9:21 am:
Love the article. You're right, there's no reason a high school student should have to choose between his/her health and a good grade.
 
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caitydive said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 8:24 am:
Hey, Sarasota, Florida is on your side too! My English class will sign your petition. We're looking forward to making change.
 
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Louie said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 8:22 am:
Well, we're waiting to see your petition here in Rhode Island. Don't forget to get in touch with us when it's ready.
 
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JRbusiness said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 8:21 am:
This debate has been going on for 2 years at my school. Have you had any luck in changing people's minds at your school? Why are the school boards putting students' health after busing dollar expenditures?
 
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mollitover said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 8:19 am:
Yes! My personality changes into ogre mode 5 days a week because of no sleep. Can't continue to do this when I have 4 APs to take next year.
 
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D.C.writer said...
Dec. 15, 2009 at 12:06 pm:
Love the article and the research. Our school is going through a similar tug of war with school times. Good luck with this.
 
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Oregongirl said...
Dec. 15, 2009 at 10:28 am:
Yes, yes, Oregon agrees with you too! Our teachers keep the AP kids up till 2 AM every morning, and we have such high reports of flu and mono among our group. The kids are like the walking dead...exhausted. Sign me up for this petition.
 
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Californiagirl said...
Dec. 15, 2009 at 10:26 am:
Ahhhhhhhhhh! Phylum! I remember pulling an all-nighter for that exam and then having to drag myself out of bed at 6 AM. If you're taking classes that keep you up every night past midnight, you shouldn't be rolling into school till 9AM.
 
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Brooke2013 said...
Dec. 15, 2009 at 12:32 am:
Me too. I have a bio exam on all of classification tomorrow at 7:30 AM and I'm still studying the hundred pages for the exam, like the rest of my class. What's pathetic is that I won't get more than 4 hours of sleep tonight, and then be expected to remember hundreds of pages of phylum, etc. Please stop the evil class times!!!
 
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calylil said...
Dec. 15, 2009 at 12:28 am:
I'm wide awake studying at 1:30 AM, and I have to get up at 6 AM tomorrow. There is no way I'm going through this for 4 years. Petition!!!
 
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SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm:
Hey, Urbs. Just wanted to stop by and tell you I updated the Homework Revolution website. You're officially part of the team now! Check out the post. I know you will enjoy it through and through!
 
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ewok113 said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 8:27 am:
This article means business, and I wish we could all take it to our school boards. The last paragraph is so true, and 9 AM is such a nice, round number.
 
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Tej P. said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 8:18 am:
lol i like this very much even tho i didn't read it but lolololol fsgdhwqdgwshefhdchddhckjhaddvoivhdsjavhbdkvdksmoisthkqvdhsvdscfhvaginadwvcdhjvbdhska
 
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Geo2013 said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 7:11 am:
And another point for Dallas! We're with ya. We've been complaining about the hours for years but get no where because the administration wants the little kids to have an older sibling home when they get there. They forget one vital point...most of our high school students stay after for extra help or clubs and don't get home till around 4 PM anyway. Ridiculous.
 
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friartuck said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 7:08 am:
Westport is on your side as well. Let's hear it for Connecticut! Tell us how to sign.
 
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windylane11 said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 6:51 am:
Let's hear it for Rhode Island! We want a 9 AM school start! Better sleep, better students, less sick students, less grumpy students.
 
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sandman said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 6:48 am:
More Rhode Island. We're going to bring your article to our principal and beg for mercy! Rock on!
 
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Texan2012 said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 6:46 am:
Yes sir, count us in for Dallas too. Our writing class goes on line for the first 10 minutes every period and reads and reviews the articles. We like yours, and agree. start time for high school is an issue everywhere in this country.
 
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