School or Sleep. Why must we choose?

November 6, 2009
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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.

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.

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This article has 319 comments. Post your own now!

Icy96 said...
Feb. 3, 2011 at 11:08 am
Excellent job, this was incredibly well-written. I think I'm going to show your article to my school board. Here in Chicago, there are schools that are literally paying students cash money for high grades, so I think the school board would listen if we proposed this kind of change. Thank you for writing this, and please continue to do so ;)
kisekinya replied...
Mar. 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm
But where would they get the money for this sort of thing? How much can you pay a child to get good grades? And with that many children in a grade, the amount of money needed will grow. I'm all for getting money for an A, but how reasonable is it?
thetiedyecrayon said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm
This was so well-written! I did a project on this-if only we'd found this information before! Yes, I highly agree with you: we need more sleep. I do think that you could strengthen your sports point more, but everything else seems really well-researched and thought out. Great job!
carstorm said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm
I agree with this well though out essay. I wish the world (or at least all of the US) would see this and take action.
xfracturedsmile said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

I love this essay! It is so researched and persuasive. Great job!

I wish I could show this to my school's superintendent! I wish teachers would understand how serious this is and that their students could do so much better if we started the school day AT LEAST an hour later than usual. I hope school's start doing that in the near future. I mean, its scientifically proven and other schools ARE doing it with great results, why isn't everyone else jumping on the band wagon?!

JackBean replied...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 11:43 am
Yes, do it! Make a committee of kids and make an appointment with your administration. You can do this with enough people on board. Our school just agreed to change the start time for next year from 7:30 to 8:30am. Woohooo! It happened because kids were bombarding school board meetings and protesting. These teachers cannot control themselves with giving us constant tests and projects, so we have to take things into our own hands.
Coriander replied...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 11:44 am
Yes! A Student Sleep Revolution! Let's do it!
Behind_Blue_Eyes replied...
Feb. 3, 2011 at 10:26 am
its also proven that the more u sleep, that taller u grow. u grow mainly when u sleep so if u sleep more u will grow a lot taller
Hawthorn replied...
Feb. 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm
Hmm. Sports are a big thing where I live so a better/taller basketball team should motivate them like nothing else.
Spenser This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 10:26 am
Oh my God, THANK YOU! I suffer from serious sleep issues on school days and my parents want me to get better grades. If schools would start later, things would be a lot better!
forgottenpenname This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 8:16 am

Every point you make here is amazing... the kids at my school have been trying to convince the teachers to complain that we should start later for years, but they haven't been able to because they thought that there was no scientific proof backing us up, but hey -- look -- now there is! :D

I'm a high school junior who takes two APs and an honors class and participates heavily in the theatre company, NHS, church activities, and takes voice and guitar lessons. For a while, I was also tak... (more »)

Jakethesnake said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 5:55 am
Jeez, I have to get up at five and grab a coffee. This and maybe an extra month of school would be a good idea. We should model it off of China, who is higher up on the scale than us. Also, we have to push our society to not focus on entertainment, but rather school. If we can do that, we may have a chance to catch back up. Trust me, I definitely do not want China or any other country to be said better than the U.S. I don't care what it's in- school, economy, military, or anything else.
sunshine04 said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 2:33 am

its so cool you all have ap classes 

here every physics teacher is useless 

i have a great interest in ap 

if i have to stay all night i 'll do

and the sleep problem is very true my friends feel sleepy at 9 pm 

actually i am night owl

xJuneBugx said...
Feb. 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm
well researched, good arguement!! i want to show this article to my school board! ... i would write more, but i should probably get to bed.... :)
nena said...
Jan. 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm
good point. (:
sicilia said...
Jan. 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm
i love the topic of this! it's so true. the organizations a little awkward, but otherwise great article!
pumpkin1997 said...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 10:06 am
This is amazing. I love all the facts, and this should really be a good eye opener
Israel70717 said...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm
The government should not give us longer hours but if they do they should not change the hour we start because then we would be in school all day and have nothing else to do. We as teens need a lot of sleep and many of use are not even getting to sleep at least 8 hours we sleep about 5 to 6 hours and we go to school restless. Teachers should go easier on home work assignments because that takes sleeping time from us causing more stress. But my main point is that I don't want the government to gi... (more »)
fatboy said...
Jan. 3, 2011 at 6:44 am
you my friend, are my hero.
Olivia7 said...
Dec. 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm
Yeah, teens really are on the low end of the scale. People are always wondering why teens are so grumpy and stubborn, but the answer is staring them right in the face. We need more sleep!!! Teens are still kids and need their own free time.
Babygirl809 said...
Dec. 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm
I have a solution...DONT TAKE AP CLASSES!!! if u cant handle it. I get up at 5:30 schools starts at 7:30. I take Advanced and AP classes. I am in 6 clubs. I do basketball, golf, and softball. I have to cook, do the dishes and clean the house. I volunteer at several places and work at the commissary. I barely sleep during the week but hey Its a competitive world you have to keep if you want to go to a good school and have a good career. 
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