School or Sleep. Why must we choose?

November 6, 2009
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 319 comments. Post your own now!

Terrencetrue said...
Mar. 21, 2010 at 8:19 pm
I can absolutely attest to the fact that I am grumpier and less apt to do well in my sports because I also have 5 APs (junior year) and absolutely no time for sleeping. Can't maintain high grades and do sports on 4 horus of sleep a night.
Caputnik said...
Mar. 21, 2010 at 8:14 pm
Oh please tell me how many years we have to beg our schools to make start times later so we can be awake during our exams.
CarpeDiem said...
Mar. 19, 2010 at 12:10 am
The stats in this article for insulin and blood sugar levels in a student with little sleep are frightening. School boards should pay more attention to the science behind what they're putting high school students through.
Pissedandtired said...
Mar. 16, 2010 at 12:25 am
Another night, another time I read this article and wonder why we can't get our board of education to stop the stupidity and allow classes to start at 8:30?
what'sagirltodo said...
Mar. 15, 2010 at 12:56 am
right now I'm exhausted from staying up till 2 am to make outlines for my AP classes, and having two essay tests tomorrow. Could you at least make them multiple choice tests so we don't get that stressed!
We'realltired said...
Mar. 10, 2010 at 11:13 pm
So tired of being tired in school all the time.Junior year is killer and there's no reason to go through such stress. It's harder than any year in college will ever be.
Teresaistired said...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 10:51 am
Love this article. It is pretty pathetic that the students who have the most stress and the most work get the least sleep, and administration doesn't care.
TiredAgain replied...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm
I agree! I'm having a 3 AP exam night myself tonight. Ridiculous, and I'll be up till at least 2 AM.
snooze11 said...
Mar. 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm
Oh man can i relate to this article! Let's hear it for starting class at 8:30 AM and leaving at 3:00 PM. I'm a junior and I take 4 APs. Let me tell you, an extra hour or two of sleep would make doing those outlines a lot more bearable.
goforbroke replied...
Mar. 3, 2010 at 9:47 pm
I'm with ya on that one. 8:30 AM is a civilized time to start school.
Brandonmax replied...
Mar. 3, 2010 at 11:13 pm
I'm all for 8:30 too. I'm a sophomore and I'm still up doing homework right now. It takes a couple of hours just to get through the outlines for AP History, and then there are another 4 hours plus studying for the inevitable test.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm
Urbs! We haven't talked in so long. We really have to work on that website of ours!
Blooper195 said...
Feb. 26, 2010 at 8:04 pm
im in middle school, so our school hours are 7:45 to 3:00. if we were to take out all the electives that we had to choose, we would be out early enough to grab lunch. it would save the school bucketloads of money and students would be able to focus in on school work. as for getting up early, i wouldnt mind if school was just pushed back a couple hours. kids need more sleep than anyone, so why make us the ones that have to get up early?
Jesse'sgirl said...
Feb. 23, 2010 at 12:13 am
I'm so exhausted right now; it's after 1 AM and I have two AP projects to finish both for the same day. No, we do not get enough sleep.
pissednsmart said...
Feb. 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm
Look, we can't fight the research. Clearly the amount of sleep high school students are getting is not sufficient. The problem is, aside from feeling grouchy and on edge all the time, the real effects of this sleep deprivation won't become obvious till we're older. Something nice to look forward to.
jeffko said...
Feb. 21, 2010 at 12:12 am
After seeing my 3 brothers walk through the school day like zombies, and sick all winter from too little sleep accompanying their 5 AP junior year classes, I am putting a stop to the madness, since my school system can't seem to do that for me. I will take one AP and all Honors classes instead, because I don't intend to walk through my high school years like the walking wounded. Will I be hurting my college chances by doing this? Probably, but is enough of us did this, the colleges wou... (more »)
Madison17 said...
Feb. 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm
I'm a high school student and I get up at 5:30 am every day to get to school on time. But with that being said, I'm also an athlete. If school were, in anyway, pushed back later, our games and matches would last until 10 o clock before we could even get back home - much less have any homework done. As far as I'm concerned, the early rising and late bedtime is just something we need to deal with.
ALondon said...
Feb. 14, 2010 at 12:22 am
Agreed! There was a time when America was full of out-of-the-box learners. A simpler time when we were rested and did a normal amount of school work a day, and had time to dream and plan, and weren't forced to take 4-5 AP courses just to get into the college that we deserved to go to in the first place. Our country made great leaders years ago. What makes the government think that we wouldn't again if given some time to sleep a bit more, be kids, and learn to love learning again? Colle... (more »)
oldfashionedgirl said...
Feb. 14, 2010 at 12:17 am
There are so many ridiculous things that our gov. stands behind regarding education: sending science teachers on simulated space trips to try to bring more excitement to the classroom in math and science, pushing ever forward with standardized exams and DBQs starting in elementary school so that we can become better testing bots...why can't the simple things be done? Allow us weeks without tests, just to do projects, read an study and do our homework, take us on trips for experiential learn... (more »)
abc123 said...
Feb. 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm
i thinkwe should start skool at 10:15 that shoul dgave us unfue sleep and we should get out of skool at our normal time 3:30
Site Feedback