The Sleep Situation: Why School Should Start Later

By Rachel Skerker, Visual Editor

I think that most teenagers can agree that one of the worst sounds they have ever heard is their alarm clock going off in the morning. Between the angry beeps giving them a headache and it being so early in the morning, getting out of bed becomes a tedious and arduous process, involving hitting the snooze button a couple of times just to catch five or ten more measly minutes of shut-eye.
It is common knowledge that many high school students complain of lack of sleep, and rightfully so. Between juggling sports, jobs, friends, family, and homework, many teenagers can feel overwhelmed at times, and sink into sleeping patterns that give them much less sleep than they should be getting. Research shows that teenagers should be getting eight through ten hours of sleep per night; but studies show that the average American teenager gets about one or two hours less than the recommended time. Sleep deprivation has many negative effects on teenagers’ performance in school, as they find it harder to concentrate, often misunderstand or forget things they had learned throughout the day, and often have mood swings. In general, sleep deprivation affects almost every aspect of a teenager’s life: school, sports, attitudes, and makes making decisions harder.
So what is one possible solution? Recent studies show that teenagers natural sleep tendencies are to go to sleep later, and wake up late. This research also indicates that in some parts of the country school bells ring as early as 7:00 a.m., which stands in stark contrast with the sleeping patterns and needs of adolescents.
The question of whether or not schools should start later in the day has been recognized in the past, and continues to be a never-ending debate today.
In April of 1999, Representative Zoe Lofgren proposed a resolution to encourage school districts to reconsider their early start times in order to be more in sync with the needs of their students. “I hope this is a wake up call to school districts and parents all over this country,” he said. “With early school start times, some before 7:00 a.m., adolescents are not getting enough sleep.” His proposal was known as Congressional Resolution 135, or the “ZZZ’s to A’s” Act.
The proposal encouraged schools to move their start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m., which also coincided with the average work day for adults. A study conducted around the same time of the proposal by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, showed that there was indeed an impact of pushing back school times. The study consisted of several high schools changing their starting times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. Throughout the study, the majority of the students reported that they had been getting more sleep as a result, and had an easier time getting up in the morning. There was improvement in attendance, increase in daytime alertness, as well as decrease in aggressive moods. A similar study conducted in 2004 in Minnesota in several middle schools reflected similar results.
Recent studies also reflect similar results, and it has become evident that pushing back school’s start times has had positive effects for many students.
Although many students are concerned that pushing back the time school starts in the morning will cut into after-school activities, the benefits of sleep as a whole will actually make them more productive throughout the day. By getting more sleep, there is a less likelihood of having mood swings, less tardiness or absenteeism, improving academic performance, and simply being able to get through the school day without falling asleep at their desks.

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