Should schools have later start times?
May 18, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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It’s five o’clock and the alarm is going off again. Now it’s the scramble to get up, get ready, and make it to school before the first bell rings at 7:15 a.m.
That’s a pretty early start time for school. The reasoning here is that the earlier the start time, the earlier the release time- so students can pursue extracurriculars or jobs after school. But forcing high schoolers to start so early may actually be hurting more than helping.
Adolescence is the most imperative period of development in a person’s life, and sleep, as a necessary biological function, is an even more necessary part of that development. By starting classes so early, schools are restricting the amount of sleep their students are able to get each night, which can put them at risk of worse conditions and hurts overall productivity.
The biology of teens compounded with the expectations of academics, social obligations, and extracurriculars create an equation that is incompatible with the current start times.
At the onset of puberty, the body’s natural circadian rhythm shifts due to hormonal changes, so that teens will naturally fall asleep and wake up later. Regardless of how early they have to get up the next morning or how tired they feel, most students will still be unable to fall asleep until late because of the way their bodies respond to the normal chemical changes during adolescence.
“I don’t think we start at a bad time, but I would definitely like to start later. I feel like especially in your first period, everyone’s not awake just yet. That hurts your grade because you’re not absorbing information,” junior Carly Sander said.
Doctors are voicing their agreement.
“If we combine an early school starting time–say 7:30 am–with our knowledge that optimal sleep need is 9 1/4 hours, we are asking that 16-year olds go to bed at 9 pm. Rare is a teenager that will keep such a schedule. School work, sports practices, clubs, volunteer work, and paid employment take precedence. When biological changes are factored in, the ability even to have merely ‘adequate’ sleep is lost,” said Dr. Mary Carskadon of the Brown School of Medicine.
What harm would come from starting school just a couple of hours later? Students would come to school more refreshed and achieve higher academic performance.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today. The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” said Dr. Judith Brown of American Pediatrics.
Schools are not just educating future job trainees. They are educating well-rounded individuals who should have the skills to handle life and respond to their own needs. But if school ignores their needs, they are teaching students that their needs aren’t important.