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!

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
serioussouth replied...
Feb. 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm
I think you might be one of the ones who needs to stay in school long enough to learn how to spell and type. Don't comment on an article unless you have something significant to say.
Regarding the sleep issue, I think with the amount of time lost in daily classes from teachers having to quiet and discipline students, we probably could begin at 9 AM with a zero-tolerance policy for classroom noise, and finish at 3:00PM. We'd get more done and have happier students.
Authorgal98 replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm
Wow, your tough. I'm sorry, but you're not a kid, are you?
MisplacedTexan14 said...
Feb. 9, 2010 at 1:51 pm
If you start school later you must end later. No one wants to get out of school at 5 pm. Just go to sleep earlier. Do your homework as soon as you get home so you don't stay up late doing it.
runnergrl said...
Feb. 7, 2010 at 7:55 am
In every class teachers are always giving you the you need more sleep speech but then they'll give you an hour of homework or announce a quiz is tomorrow and give you twenty minutes of homework. By the time this happens seven times you have a ton of homework and a few hours of practice for whatever sport or other activity your parents and teachers encouraged you to join.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm
And that is the sad truth, my friend. Homework is always the culprit and it deserves to be!
getreal11 replied...
Feb. 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm
Okay, let's get real with the homework bashing already. This article is excellent not because it says we get too much h.w., but because it explains that we have too many exams and projects and work in the advanced classes all the time. there's never a chance to catch our breath (except during vacation, over which we are usually assigned projects). So, in order to do well on all the tests and projects, we have to stay up ridiculously late every night. I don't think any of us would ... (more »)
tiredoftests replied...
Feb. 8, 2010 at 9:41 pm
Awesome! In total agreement with you guys.
Too bad we can't make ourselves understood in our own high schools.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm
For those of you who think I am weird, dismiss this fact. For those of you who want to listen, open your ears. Today, after skimming through a recent issue of "Family Magazine", I discovered they had a whole entire article on...sleep! The irony, the facts, the whole enchilada. You should definitely check it out. :)
Nick17 said...
Jan. 28, 2010 at 10:23 pm
There is a very simple solution to this. Go to sleep earlier. Can't get in bed before 2AM because of homework? Do your homework earlier. Can't because of soccer practice? Quit soccer. Don't make the world change because of your shortcomings. No boss would ever let a person come to work later because that poor person needs a bit more sleep. The notion is ridiculous. Two years ago, my high school started it's first class at 7:05. It was not mandatory. The first mandatory class ... (more »)
jacks18 replied...
Jan. 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm
Unfortunately Nick17, it's not as easy as you make it sound. There's a basic break down in the system when it comes to students who are working like dogs to gain admission to the best schools; those schools require huge amounts of extra curricular and leadership activities after school. Then, of course, there are internships for those of us who are in the sciences. You won't get very far in your acceptances to college if you don't measure up in these areas. Of course it'... (more »)
Nick17 replied...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 1:17 am
jacks18- Who said you need to live within a mile of school? That's just laziness. No matter how far around you move the school day, there will only ever be 24 hours in a school day. If you start school later, it will end later, causing extra activities to run later, so students will get to sleep even later, and all in all get the same amount of sleep.
Jacks18 replied...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 9:50 am
Yes, I understand the 24 hour day theory, Nick17; but you're missing the point about the biological changes in teens that the article brings up. We are wired to go to sleep later and to wake up LATER. So even if we had to come home from school later because we were being allowed to sleep later, it would be healthier for kids between the ages of 13-18. It's a fact that's been studied over the past few years. It accounts for why college students can do so well working until 2AM, the... (more »)
Nick17 replied...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm
Bull. Sorry, but it's true. Teens aren't 'wired' to go to sleep later and wake up later. They choose to do that. I wake up between 4:30 and 5, and I don't seem to have a problem. Some children in rural areas get up even earlier than that, to help around the house. It's all a matter of self discipline.
McCoyfarm replied...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 2:48 pm
It's funny that you're quoting what kids in rural areas do! I live in rural Idaho and help work the farm with my dad and brothers. Of course we get up early. I'm up at 4:45AM every day to do my chores and get to school by 8AM. However, I sure don't have work that keeps me studying past 8:00 PM. We don't take the kind of course load it sounds like you guys in the cities have to take. I am sure that if I had to be competing with all you kids who take 4-8 AP classes, I'... (more »)
tunecrazychick replied...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm
Nick17, just because you're apparently a miraculous exception to the numbers of teenagers that don't get enough sleep doesn't mean that the rest of us suffer any less. I'm sorry you feel so superior.
Nick17 replied...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm
tunecrazychick, I'm sorry you think I sound like a feel superior... I was raised in a family where you get up at 5. Anyone who isn't up by the time my mom leaves for work at 6, they're lazy and selfish.
My school is set up so that the students have a great amount of control as to when they go to class, and what classes they take. In this, I am lucky.
However, in the real world, people wake up early. I sleep about four hours a day. I just don't find whining ver... (more »)
TheTurk replied...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm
Nick17, whining is what made this country separate from Great Britain. Whining is what brings everyone's issues and beliefs out in the open so that the law ca be emended when there are injustices. Whining, or as I'd prefer to call it, airing one's concerns (especially when they are based on facts in journals like the Harvard Medical Journal or other important science compilations) is what brings about change. Your upbringing is just fine, but your understanding of the importance ... (more »)
Urbs2013 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm
Nick, to reply to a statement you made a little earlier, the article clearly states that teens are wired. There is factual evidence, and scientific evidence. If you have an issue with science, then I suggest you go visit a first grade teacher for some more "learnin" about the truth.
eliezerG12 said...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm
Wow, I haven't seen many elementary school kids like "ur bad at articles" and "superbowlkid2222" write absurd, hurtful comments on excellent high school students' articles online before. You guys really should stick to publications in your own age group.
Coreyander said...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Better stick to sports, because you def don't have any academic acumen. Don't be abusive to writers. This one makes excellent points that have received some of the highest scores (it's featured a lot).
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