Later School Start Times: A Cure for Sleep Deprivation

17 December 2018 School start times need to be pushed back to help teens live healthier and more productive lives. Almost everybody suffers from lack of sleep on a daily basis but teens are more sleep deprived than anyone else. This is because teens require eight and a half to ten hours of sleep every night.

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In comparison adults need seven-eight hours of sleep. Less than 20% of teens get enough sleep every night leading to problems that can harm a teenager’s development. Many teenagers live crazy, busy lives. Teenagers have extracurricular activities, volunteering, homework, jobs, and a social life outside of school. Dr. Harvey Moldofsky, who is the medical director for Sleep Disorders Clinic of the Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology, describes teenagers lives in an accurate fashion: We live in a time of time famine (qtd. in Wasowicz 1). School start times should be pushed back to help students with sleep deprivation problems such as driving while drowsy, low concentration in the classroom, and even to help prevent severe, life threatening medical conditions.

Many people take sleep for granted, however Dr. Judith Owens believes, Sleep is not optional. It’s health imperative, like eating and breathing Lack of sleep could be fatal (qtd. in Brody 2). She even goes on to say that driving drowsy is as dangerous as driving drunk. Lack of sleep causes poor concentration in school causing students unnecessary stress in many teens. Many even experience ulcers, heart problems, obesity, depression, and many other health problems because of sleep deprivation. Scientists and parents’ theories on teen sleep are very different. While many parents just assume their kids are lazy, scientists say that melatonin is the one to blame. Melatonin is the hormone that your body makes to help you sleep. Scientists say that we all have an internal clock that puts us on a rhythm of sleep patterns. This is called our circadian rhythm. As we grow older our circadian rhythm naturally shifts around. Teenagers experience the Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. This means that teens are wired to stay up later and sleep until late in the morning. This is one of the many reasons why school should start at later times.

Early school start times lead to drowsy teen drivers. Driving drowsy is the same as driving drunk. One expert did a study on schools with different start times in Virginia. The school in Virginia Beach, which starts at 7:20, experienced a 41% higher crash rate than the Chesapeake schools, which started at 8:40. Dr. Robert Vorona has argued many times that later school start times will result in more alert drivers. Sleep affects your reaction rate, decision making, and impulse control which is why driving while drowsy is very dangerous. Traffic cops say that 35,000 collisions a year in America are caused by sleepy drivers. They also say that 32 million admit to dozing off while behind the wheel. Dr. Kushida pointed out that, Often there is more denial with sleep loss than there is with alcohol abuse. It’s almost easier, and certainly more widely practiced, to take the car keys away from a person who’s intoxicated than one who’s sleepy.””(qtd. in Wasowicz 2). When teens get to school, more results of sleep deprivation come to light.

Low concentration, falling asleep in class, and poor performances in the morning all occur because of early school start times. Dr. Owens says, It takes sleepy students five hours to do three hours of homework. (qtd. in Brody 1). Students often spend an unnecessary time on homework simply because they cannot concentrate or remember anything they learned that day. Many students will even fall asleep in their morning classes. Sleep is an important part of the learning process. It is when a person reaches R.E.M. sleep, or deep sleep, that the brain starts to commit things to long-term memory. Many kids will leave the class thinking they know how to do something only to come back the next day and not remember anything they did the day before simply because they barely slept. Two- thirds of all students in America blame their poor concentration skills on being tired or drowsy. Schools will also often make teenagers very stressed. Studies show that lack of sleep affects your ability to handle stress by 66%. Not to mention, teenagers have busy and stressful lives that are amped up by rampaging hormones. This causes severe emotional problems such as anxiety and, in some cases, depression. Stress and anxiety are only the beginning of health problems that occur because of lack of sleep.

Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s have been linked to sleep deprivation. People often think of sleep as being unimportant and unrelated to their health problems, however, many experts have found sleep to be just as important as diet and exercise. Almost everyone in the world wake up and are usually a little bit cranky or in a bad mood. Sometimes it goes away as the person wakes up more but sometimes it affects their whole day. Lack of sleep can affect your mood at dramatic costs. Some people grow depressed from lack of sleep and might even become suicidal. Also, when people are tired they lose all motivation for exercise and resort to eating instead. This explains why so many people struggle with obesity. Especially in America, everyone is always working or doing something and people often forget to rest. For every one hour loss of sleep, people eat up to 80% more than they usually would. People rely on food for energy to power them through the day. The current teenagers also struggle with a new obstacle called electronics. Electronics create white light that suppresses melatonin. Caffeine also suppresses melatonin. Many people believe that caffeine does not affect them, and they may not feel the effects right away, but it definitely affects people when they go to bed and they may just never notice it because it always takes them a long time to follow asleep. Doctors say that it is beneficial to develop a wind down routine, something to make your body more relaxed. They also say that naps reduce your sleep pressure and it makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Teens usually do not have the time, with their busy schedules, to unwind at night. Sleep is a very important course of treatment for any illness, but especially cancer. There is a reason every doctor tells you to get rest and sleep when you are sick. When people sleep, it allows the body’s immune system to work faster and stronger. This is because your body doesn’t have to work on doing other things, such as walking. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming side effects of sleep deprivation, many refuse to move school start times back.

There are many parents and school boards who fight to keep things the way they are. Most don’t want the change because they say it will be inconvenient for them and their work schedules. One school board even suggested a change only to report that the, parents were almost in tears saying how it would destroy their lives. (qtd. in Wasowicz 3) Parents argue that it would set off a series of unsettling changes. They brought up changes in bus schedules, parents who drop their kids off would have to change their work schedules, and some extracurricular activities would extend well into the night. However, many school boards and sleep specialists have reasoned that really all parents fear is change. Bus schedules and routes would actually be safer if school times were pushed back. They would no longer have to fight through crazy rush hour traffic and give safer transportation for kids. The school board of San Diego also pointed out that the majority of high school students drive themselves to school anyways. Extracurricular conflicts would not be a problem. The hours out late would not even be that much different and, because of late start times, teens would have the time they need to get the sleep they need. Changing work schedules is not really that big of a deal for most people either. Most schools have elementary kids starting at nine or ten and high school starting at seven or eight. This should be switched around. The majority of high school students drive themselves, ride with friends, or take the bus. In contrast, most parents have to drop off their kids in elementary. Also, elementary students are less busy, stressed, need less sleep, and have way more energy than teens. So why are the school start times backwards? It all comes down to parents. Most parents put pressure on teens to do well in school so that they can get into a good college, however, they do not realize that when teens get the proper amount of sleep they actually work faster and would not need to be in school for as long. Also, parents have a big impact on schools as the school board has to wait for their vote in order to change something. The sooner parents realize that their teenager is not just extremely lazy but actually suffering from severe lack of sleep, the sooner schools can change their start times in order to improve the lives of future generations.

Pushing back school start times will improve teenagers lives by making them safer drivers, more productive students, and happier and healthier kids. Teenagers struggle with more stress than most adults on a regular basis. The hormones in teenagers make everything bigger than it actually is. Hormones cannot be contained or controlled by teenagers either. One of these hormones is called melatonin, which is the hormone that makes a person sleepy. Scientists have proven that melatonin does not get released in teens until much later than everybody else. This means their internal clock, or their circadian rhythm, is all messed up. All of this occurs because the huge hormonal changes in teens interfere with teenager’s internal clocks. Many studies of shown the emotional and physical toll lack of sleep has on teenagers. Schools that have moved their start times later have experienced less anxiety, depression, and suicide in their communities. Later school start times also produce safer driving. Driving drowsy is the same as driving drunk. Would you let a kid drive after having a couple of beers? The biggest impact of this much-needed change, will be seen when today’s teenagers are released out into the world. The happier, smarter, and more productive they are now will help them make the world a better place when they are older. Later school start times will bring about a change in society that will help the lives of everyone be better, brighter, and happier. Sleep is taken for granted too much in today’s society. It is time to wake up and realize how lack of sleep can damage our lives.

Works Cited

Brody, Jane E. “”Hard Lesson in Sleep for Teenagers.”” New York Times, 21 Oct. 2014, pp. D.5. SIRS Issues Researchers

“”Waking Up to a Controversy–should High School Move to a Later…”” San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 Oct. 2017, pp. n/a. SIRS Issues Researcher

Wasowicz, Lidia. “”Sleep: Just as Important as Exercise, Diet. SIRS Issues Researcher, 02 Feb 2004

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