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Teens Aren't Getting Enough Sleep

Updated on December 19, 2014

Too Early

My alarm sounds. I struggle to get out of bed and rub the tiredness out of my eyes, but I can’t ignore the fact that I did not get enough sleep. This is my experience before school every weekday. The simple truth is high schools are starting too early. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, middle and high schools should delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. (1). My high school, Myers Park, starts at 7:15 a.m. The short term effects of waking up too early are clearly seen in students’ actions at school as well as their activities outside of school. Investigations on the subject have shown that it is almost impossible for teens to get in the habit of going to sleep earlier and getting up earlier. This is a problem that obviously needs to be dealt with, and the best solution is simply to have high schools start later.

Effects on Teens

Every day, at any given point during one of my classes, there is someone with his or her head down on a desk. The teachers try their best to keep the students focused on the lessons, but they, too, know how hard it is for their students to pay attention in class when they have gotten so little sleep the night before. This inability to stay focused on the teachers has a detrimental impact on test scores. Finley Edwards of educationnext.org constructed a study in Wake County, NC, that shows when start times are pushed back thirty minutes or more to after 8 a.m, reading scores improved an average of one percentile and math scores an average of two percentiles (2). Not only does lack of sleep affect test scores but it also makes teenagers moody and depressed. Parents know when their children have not gotten enough sleep coming home from a sleepover, but imagine this being the case every day for many high school students. Adolescents already have mood swings due to the effects of puberty. My moods can be very positive or very negative for seemingly no reason, and I know this is because of the combination of little sleep and being a teen.

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Dangers

High school is also the time in students’ lives when they begin to drive and make the most mistakes doing so. Sleepiness exponentially increases the chance of a crash. According to Sarah McKibben, author of “Wake Up Call,” when Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming changed their school start time to 8:55 a.m, car crashes involving teenage drivers dropped by 70% (3). The National Sleep Foundation compares drowsy driving to driving under the influence because of similar symptoms for both. The dangers of early high school start times cannot be ignored.

Psychology of Teen Sleep

“Why don’t kids just go to bed earlier if they know they have to get up earlier to go to school?” These well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful people who ask this have obviously forgotten how hard it is to find sleep as a teenager. A student led study completed at the UCLA School of Medicine shows that after puberty, adolescents’ bodies tell them to go to sleep around 11 p.m (4). Schools are forcing students to try to work against their internal clocks and get to sleep before their bodies start to naturally shut down. This is close to impossible for many. On top of this, students know that it is crucial for them to fall asleep as soon as they get to bed if they want to be attentive the next day. I have cracked under this pressure, known as sleep-wake homeostasis, many times and have had anxiety about falling asleep prevent me from sleeping. Those who chastise students on not going to sleep at a “decent time” have obviously not researched the facts.

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Solution

The clear solution for this problem is for high schools to start school later. Some parents and school officials might complain that if only high schools are moved back, the bus schedules for elementary and middle schoolers are thrown into disarray. Well...move those schools back too! According to “Wake Up Call,” 47% of schools around the nation already start later than 8:00 a.m. (3). Instead of complaining about how hard it would be, why don’t high schools and school board officials listen to the success stories and emulate the ways in which these changes were put into place?

Conclusion

Sleep is extremely important for students to function successfully. Schools with early start times are just not giving their students this chance to be successful, and the effects are there for all to see. It is not the fault of the teens that the usual time they get to sleep is later than expected. It is only natural for them to find rest later than the time schools expect. High schools must put an end to early start times and let students get the rest they require.

Bibliography

(1) "Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying Start Times of Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation." American Academy of Pediatrics. 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx>.

(2.) Edwards, Finley. "Do Schools Begin Too Early? - Education Next." EducationNext. 1 July 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://educationnext.org/do-schools-begin-too-early/>.

(3.)McKibben, Sarah. Wake Up Call. 4th ed. Vol. 56. 2014. Print.

(4) "UCLA Sleep Disorders Center." UCLA Health. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://sleepcenter.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=63>.

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