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!

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. 
Thomsays replied...
Jan. 3, 2011 at 10:39 am
This is ridiculous. If you barely sleep you may be taking AP classes (though you don't say how many) but you can't be doing very well in them. You also don't mention any leadership position. That's a whole other story. many of us have organizations, clubs, newspapers and businesses to run. So the moralizing doesn't work for those of us taking the top track and trying to elad at the same time.
EmilyMichelle This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm
Thomsays, this is NOT ridiculous and not neccesarily true. I know a girl whose schedule is entirely IB classes (which many people consider harder than AP) and whose overall schedule sounds much like Babygirl809's and she has straight A's and several leadership positions. I don't know how Babygirl809 is doing in her classes but it's not "ridiculous." You sound very self-satisfied in saying "those of us taking the top track and trying to lead at the same time." Maybe Babygirl809 has leadership pos... (more »)
abridge replied...
Jul. 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I think the point isn't whether it is possible or not to survive on 6 or less hours of sleep, the point is that everyone has different needs and abilities.  If so many people are having trouble with 6 hours of sleep, then that is worth talking about, and maybe changing something. 

By the way, fantastic article!  Very informative.

Grania This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 3, 2012 at 8:59 am


I really respect that you are so invested in your school and community, but I want to give you a warning, because I used to do the same thing you are doing now. After two years of involvement like yours, I was diagnosed to be addicted to stress hormones, and I have now spent a very long time working to normalize the chemicals in my brain through yoga and meditation. It certainly is a competitive world, but it is actually not as competitive as you think. I just graduated an... (more »)

Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 7, 2010 at 4:43 pm
On the flip side, school wouldn't get out until four or five. 
needmoresleep said...
Dec. 6, 2010 at 7:35 am
love this article alot
Tallie said...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm
Agreed. Is anyone else here taking AP Euro this year? There are maybe only a dozen kids in my whole town, Sebastopol, who take it. This course should come with a label: you will have no life at any time during the year if you choose this road. It's courses like this that keep most of us up till 2am studying.
Figuresk8757 replied...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 6:39 pm
I'm sorry but i took AP Euro last year as a sophomore and i got a 4 on the exam. I didn't stress and heck i didn't even study that much. I finished with a B+ in the class and a 4 on the exam. I also balance all of that with being a nationally ranked figure skater, like im ranked number 2. My advice, just dont stress and your grade will improve. It isn't about how much time you study its the quality of studying. Less time but more awake will yield better results.
WindDancer said...
Nov. 26, 2010 at 1:54 pm
The only problem I would have with starting school later is that then we would get out later. But, then again, my whole afternoon is wasted with homework and studying- ever noticed how Friday Night feels like its own seperate day? Because we aren't as stressed about school. Sometimes it feels like school takes up my whole life.
carlie replied...
Jan. 3, 2011 at 10:36 am
This is a really good point.
BballRox123 said...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 8:23 am
There are so many of you saying "Oh I have to get up at 6"  and "I can't take it my school starts at 8:30".  I am 15 years old.  My school starts at 7:15.  My bus comes at 6:30.  And I have to get up at 5:15.  So while your all whining like babies about getting up at 6, think about me.  You have got it good.  ANd one more thing.  Guy who said they are homeschooled, you have got it way better than us.  So shut up.  Thank you:)
nygrl126 replied...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 11:02 pm
When I saw this comment I had to reply. Thank You!!! Finally someone who understands. My bus also comes around 6:30 (6:34) and my school starts at 7:15. Thanks for sticking up for the small minority of us who really have to get up early.
onelonelyx replied...
Oct. 18, 2010 at 11:32 pm
Yes, but when does your school get out?
Monicaa13 replied...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 10:59 am
Ok. I get your point and I know. But I'm 14 and I run a business to support my parents. I have 30 cows and around 20 goats and assorted other animals. Every morning they need to be fed and watered. I DO ALL OF IT ALONE! 12 cows and 6 goats need to be milked morning and night. I get up at 3:30 to finish this and get on the bus by 6:12. My school starts at 7 and gets out at 1:40. I know that alot of you are complaining about "unreasonable times" to get up but 3:30? At age 14? Come on guys. It's re... (more »)
pressuredbyparents said...
Oct. 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm
i totally agree with this comment. my parents are pressuring me to get A's so i can get into, i think, either AP there such a thing as IB classes? probably AP. but that's all they want me to take. i have to worry about my grades, my friends, highschool, job, caring for a horse, andd suprisingly, college!!! and, worse, i'm only in the eigth grade!!!!!!!! my school starts at eight thirty, but i have to wake up at six because my mom's a teacher. and usually, worrying about all that crap gi... (more »)
WindDancer replied...
Nov. 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm

My goodness! I feel for you. You're only in eight grade. You should be enjoying yourself more :)

And you DEFINITLY shouldn't be worrying about college.

pressuredbyparents replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm
ya it's tough. but i pull through. the main reason i agree with this article is because when the week finally ends, i sleep for twelve whole hours that night.
yearw/outrainboyfrnd said...
Oct. 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm
I totally think school should start later.  Our school starts at 7:50!  I always have a bunch of homework!
Luna Lovegood said...
Oct. 16, 2010 at 1:35 am
Thank you so much for this article.  My mom gets mad at me for stayling up late, even though I can't fall asleep until 12 anyway.  I am going to try to send it to my school board and petition for a later start!!!
Blahblah said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm
I agree. Most teenagers have to stay up late to finish homework or chores and then still drag themselves out of bed at 6:00 every morning.
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