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School or Sleep. Why must we choose?
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.