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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 313 comments. Post your own!

sufferingsenior said...
Dec. 14, 2009 at 6:41 am:
Yes, great article, good research, and it speaks to all of us in high school. You can count me in as well.
 
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Caitysays said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 10:45 pm:
Oh please make that petition. I don't know how I'll last the year as a junior with 3 hours of sleep each night. What will happen to us when we get to may with all the exams? It gives me insomnia just thinking about it. Pleas write a letter!
 
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randibru said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 1:04 pm:
Me too! I'll be signing.
 
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm :
To understand how Urbs and I have a similar view point, stop by over to my article "The Homework Revolution". Our essays together are the fuel to this revolution.
 
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alexpanda said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm:
Count me in! I'm Nora's friend and I'll get at least 15 people to sign. Post a comment when you guys begin.
 
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noradoll said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm:
Great that you guys have gotten it together. You'll have a whole lot of people signing that petition.
 
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noradoll said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:18 am:
We're ready. You guys just have to tell us when we give you our names and states to list on the petition over the break. We're ready for some action.
 
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm :
Great! Over the break, Urbs and I are writing a letter to the editor.
 
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SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 11:59 am:
LET THE REVOLUTION BEGIN!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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suzieq said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 11:41 am:
Hey, can your next article be about the farce behind high schools making kids take APs galore so they can get the money for them? The colleges don't care whether you take 3 or 8...they don't give you credit for half of them anyway. Can you uncover this story?
 
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augustmoon said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 11:39 am:
Do you think any teachers come onto these sites and read them? If they do, I have a message for you, especially the AP teachers. Please keep in mind that most of us in yor classes wind upo getitng 4s or 5s anyway, just because we're that motivated to study for them, so why do you feel the need to throw essay tests at us every week on top of assignments? Do you think that by doing one essay a month we'd lose our 5? It makes us stay up for at least 3 nights a week studying till 2 AM to a... (more »)
 
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SharaO said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 11:36 am:
Yep, as a junior in high school, I couldn't agree with you more. The truth is, I'd like to see the teachers make it through one week in our shoes, with 4 APs and after school activities, and charity work, and Saturday programs. When are we supposed to ever make up the sleep? 9AM sounds just right.
 
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grantwriter said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 10:36 am:
The president of our class at school asked the whole student gov group to read your article. It's great and we want to help by signing the petition. There are 8 of us, and when you get it going, do a posting and we'll sign.
 
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mattres2011 said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 10:19 am:
Well, trying to herd 4 grades of kids into one meeting at a given time is no easy feat. But I do agree that kids will speak from the heart and tell the stories of illness, exhaustion, being pushed to the max...and for what? So our teachers can feel like they're masters of our fate because we take a few AP classes with them? So they can give us no benefit of the doubt and destroy our grades, just becasue they want to appear tough? And we're up till all hours studying for their exams whi... (more »)
 
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saturn13 said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 10:15 am:
Excellent article, but I don't think there can be resolutions to these things unless you get the entire high school student community to bombard a school board meeting. Parents are just not effective. They're always complaining to boards and boards get tired of listening.
 
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jam2013 said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 10:12 am:
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! This is such a bone of contention at our school too! The elementary school parents won't give us a break. But what's wrong with the high school parents? Why don't they show up en masse to the meetings and out-shout the younger kids' parents? This war has been going on for a year in my school. I'm signing your petition! I'm sick of getting 5 hrs. of sleep.
 
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cat'sjournal said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 10:02 am:
Yes, my school board is taking forever to decide on the change of times for buses--it doesn't help that eveytime they call a meeting, the majority of parents who show up are parents of elementary school kids, fighting for their kids not to come in a 1/2 hour earlier. Nothing can get done in this situation.
 
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sonata2010 said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 9:59 am:
This discussion is actually going on at my school right now and is causing a lot of dissent because of busing. It's a shame that the high school students, who have far more work than the middle schoolers, have to suffer because of funds for busing.
 
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dannyboy said...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 12:09 pm:
When are you guys making the petition? I'm signing as well. The author of this should give us an email address to send our names and home states to, and we can all sign that way.
 
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JJ2013 said...
Dec. 10, 2009 at 9:56 pm:
Wow, I love the attention this is getting and the passionate sentiment it's arousing. This article might change some minds. Good luck with the petition and count me in.
 
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