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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 319 comments. Post your own now!

Lanaturner said...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm
Simply put, we'd have much sharper, nicer high school juniors if our start time was 9 AM. The comments seem to be straying from the point here. Can't we find a way through this publication to unite and draw some attention our way?
jgluckny replied...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 11:08 pm
I honestly think that this issue of high school start time has to be taken up with the state govs. You'll never get a school board to vote on something that's good for the kids AS LONG AS there's a question of money involved.
phoenixqueen said...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 9:21 pm
I have to say, I have never heard of schools that require 5-6 AP classes. I suppose that would be a lot harder to do, but I personally think that teachers should take it into accout that we have a lot of work to do. I think that they are being unfair when all of my AP teachers assign big projects all on one week. Should they coordinate or something, to see that we have a steady workload, instead of lots one week and not much the next?
ravinia replied...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 10:36 am
Yes, they should coordinate when they're assigning which project, but our school has certain days on which certain subjects are allowed to give tests. They thought that would be helpful, instead, the teachers take advantage of this and give one exam every day of the week. There's not time to take a breath...we're just working all the time, and I'm not talking about little quizzes or spelling tests; I'm talking about major informational exams. The teachers have gotten out... (more »)
phoenixqueen replied...
Jan. 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm
Wow, that's really harsh. I'm not sure teachers should be able to do that. Isn't there some sort of child labor law that should apply?
michaelyancy2010 said...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 7:54 am
The boards, the boards, the boards...It;s just like it is with high school's massive amounts of h.w. and test assignments, if we gave those assignments to the board, with the amount of time we're allowed to study, they'd get Cs or worse, and they'd be darn tired too. Why can't they all live in our shoes for a week of hell ?
mikerosenyc replied...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm
So what do you think would shake up the boards so that they'd listen to our voices? Should there be a week when the school boards are assigned our classes and assignments and tests? Of course, such a convention would have to be approved by the boards!!!
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 10:59 pm
Read my article, The Homework Revolution, if you are sick of your overload of HW. Urbs and I are coordinating out views.
Orion11 said...
Jan. 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm
We're on Long Island, where we pay so much in taxes for our schools, and we still can't get our board to start our classes at a sufficiently later time. It's a real shame for us, and it doesn't have to be this way. We could cut some salaries a little and see if administration is okay with that. I think that might work.
Logiton said...
Jan. 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm
Our high school community is really up in arms too about our Board shooting down a later start for classes. It appears it would cost too much for buses.
princealbert said...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm
Yes, the pop quiz! The worst invention of teachers who have no control of their classes. If they're so worried about their students' grades, why don't they concentrate on teaching with greater depth and give written homework that has to be checked, so at least we're learning from writing. Why would they throw pop quizzes at us, when, although most of us have read the material, we may not remember details on the day of the test because WE WERE UP ALL NIGHT STUDYING FOR THE OTH... (more »)
gabbytalks replied...
Jan. 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm
So upsetting...our school just took a vote to change the times of our high school schedule, and the later schedule lost because the bus would cost too much. Damn !
aprilshowers said...
Jan. 11, 2010 at 12:12 am
Here's a little April Fool's contest for our teachers. Let's try it: each class has to give each teacher exams in every subject we have to take. We can give them notice for a few of them, but we should add one pop quiz, just do they see what that feels like. The pop quiz is a convention that spells the demise of classroom trust re: homework.
Watch what happens when you begin to grade their papers. Bloodbath.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 5:26 pm
Then let's assign them the homework we recieve, without their own answers!
jessibear replied...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm
OMG, Aprilshowers, my entire English class had this very discussion today before our teacher arrived. What would they do if they had our schedules, even as adults? It's one thing to have 8-12 hours of work a day, as long as you're not being tested on everything along with that throughout the week. Our teachers, even the best of them, would never survive one of the bloody weeks they give to us. Someone has to make them listen. School was not this kind of experience for our parents.
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm
I agree fully.
ariben said...
Jan. 10, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Now that I'm studying for midterms and have 4 AP midterms to take, I can really sympathize with the subject matter of this article. You know what the worse thing is? Teachers are teaching up until a day or two before the exams, so we're still learning new material in all of our classes while we're supposed to be reviewing a half year's worth of notes and readings. Exactly how many hours do they think are in a day?
SpaceKing800 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm
I completely agree with you! With homework on the new things you learn, plus major studying for midterms, then how do they expect you to get a good nights sleep and come to school prepared and "fully awake" the next day?! It's proposterous!
pinksage33 said...
Jan. 9, 2010 at 7:19 am
Thank you for wrighting this article. i have not slept well in days and last night I didn't sleep at all so I get what you are saying!!!
Roamin11 replied...
Jan. 9, 2010 at 11:02 am
Every time I have more than 2 exams in one day, I spend the night tossing and turning, and it's infuriating. I get no sleep and wind up making careless errors. There is no question that we need our 8 hours, and less stress during these years.
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