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!

krizzy said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm
This is a very interesting article. For actually being a student who wakes up at 6:30 am everyday and cannot fall asleep until 12 am, i agree and actually am stunned at what i just read with all the side affects of waking up early.
debatable said...
Oct. 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm
I'm happy to say that my high school just took on this question. It was a hot debate, but the students prevailed and our new starting time is 8:15 am. I can't tell you how much better those of us in AP classes feel now that we can get ourselves at least 6 hrs. of sleep a night. Bravo on the article.
*Elle* said...
Oct. 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm
You make sooo many good points. I wish my school would do this because I get up at 5:30...And usually when it rolls around to nine or nine thirty I just cant be in bed. Im still doing homework or whatever so if school started later that would great:)
Erik replied...
Jul. 27, 2011 at 9:53 am
I agree that this persuasive contains some well researched ideas.  I like how you suggested a later start time for adolescents.  This solution would provide for some extra time in the mornings for sleep or other activities.  People are more agreeable after a good night sleep.
babygirlinthetardis said...
Sept. 20, 2010 at 4:33 pm
The later the start the better. There's a school somewhere in the UK (I can't remember where) that I really want to go to as they don't start until 10.00am and their GCSE results have gone up. I'm up late every night and even not starting till 9 I'm still struggling to stay awake through at least lesson 1.
basketball101 said...
Sept. 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm
You had it great details. You made the reader what to sleep more
thebushhippie said...
Aug. 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm
OMG!! LOVE IT! This totally explains everything! I agree with you 150%! This needs to be read by more people, preferably adults, so they can know and understand what we're going through. Great researching and thank you SO much for taking the time to write this article!!!
Hyperthorn said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 1:50 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. Adults are always saying oh stop complaining go to bed early. But it's not that simple. Then they get mad that we can't concentrate at school. The board of ed needs to realize that when all teenagers are set up to fail it's not our fault
everthought said...
Jul. 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm
if you need more sleep, I don't think it's about changing the whole school's schedule! I think it's up to the student to go to bed early or something to get more sleep, if it'd going to affect their working abilities and such.
Opinionated replied...
Oct. 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm
I would agree with you but I have a problem, I can't seem to fall asleep at all atleast until eleven, I get up at six and am miserable. I have tried going to bed earlier and tried so many different things, the wierd thing is, it started when I hit ten years of age wich is why what the author said about us changing makes so much sense. Point is, it's not that easy.
Alexis replied...
Oct. 16, 2010 at 11:28 pm
I agree. I can't fall asleep till 12 or 1 am and i have to wake up at 6 for school. My school is 8-3 and its a high school.  I wake up and I am still exhausted. I have 7 classes and am up late doing hw. I think they need to give us one day a week where we can catch up and take it easy. Yes we have the weekend but we are usually doing chores or going to work. We need time to. Yes we are younger then the older adults but we have stress to.
C_B_Mia said...
Jul. 18, 2010 at 8:37 am

I must say, I agree with this article. I am all for learning, and homework and after school activities are important.


The thing is, I wake up and 5:30 because my bus comes at 6:30. I end school at 3:00, and then I have an agter-school activitiy for a few hours. By the time I get home, eat, shower, do homework... I am going to bed at 11:oo. There simply is not enough time!

constable2011 said...
Jul. 18, 2010 at 12:13 am
I am happy to report that, because so many people in my school agree with your article, we made a stand of it to our administration and made a lot of noise at the board meeting. As a result of adult consensus and our begging, the school day for high school students in my community near Philadelphia will be starting an hour later this year! Power to the students!
Jessyka8985 said...
Jun. 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm

i agree i have to get up at 6:30 and leave bye 7:30 to get to the bus stop ride it for an hour go to school leave ride the bus for another hour get home about 5,6 at night then have to do homework get to bed at like 11,12 at night and start all over again.


whenwilltheylearn replied...
Jun. 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm
Uggh! What a bummer! Sure doesn't make yuou feel like going to learn in the morning. Why can't adminsitration understand that high school students need the most sleep?
Jessyka8985 replied...
Jun. 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm
i no they are just to old to remeber what they were like at our age
Writer24 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 26, 2010 at 12:21 am
I entirely agree. Luckily, I don't deal with getting up to early because I'm a homeschooler, but I do know I feel best when I go to bed 1 am or later and I get up between 9:30 and 10. I have occasionally experianced less sleep as well, and I've felt awful and on high alert and high energy from overtiredness and I would usually feel better the next day when I got enough sleep. Unlike this article though, which I'm not disagreeing with it because I've seen these studies, I actually do fine on 8 to... (more »)
hiiii replied...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 8:26 am
Shut up.  you have got it sooooo much better than us.  Get up at 10?!?!?!?! Omg you just wanna rub it in don't you?  You suck man
Coreytellsit said...
Jun. 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm
Could not agree more with this article--especially now that Finals are here and we have a ridiculous number of exams in a two week period. The problem is that the teachers are still teaching because they weren't able to complete their curriculum on time, so we suffer becasue we keep getting assignments and tests up until the day of our first Final. No sleeeeeep!
chickadee said...
Jun. 6, 2010 at 12:22 am
Yep, love this article. Well written and good points.
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