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Isabelle has not been able to get a decent night’s sleep in almost a month. Finals are approaching, but that does not mean her workload has been getting any lighter. In addition to studying for finals, she also has to work on a ten page essay for English and a project for history, plus the usual two hours minimum of nightly math homework and outlining a chapter for economics.
Even though Isabelle tries to keep procrastination to a minimum, she always ends up working late into the night and past midnight. In the morning, her alarm wakes her up at five so that she won’t miss the bus, which has been happening more frequently than normal. When she finally arrives at school, Isabelle is too exhausted to come close to functioning normally. Isabelle’s tale is something that most every high school student can relate to, and that is not acceptable. For the sake of the students, there needs to be reform in school start times.
While it is normal for high school students to complain about school, one must admit that the most common complaint that students have is that they did not get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation states that “Most teens need 9.25 hours of sleep a night” (“Snooze Control” 5). The easiest response would be that teenagers should simply go to bed earlier, but the solution is not as easy as it seems.
In fact, teenagers are biologically programmed to fall asleep later than children and adults. According to the NSF, “Going to sleep earlier wont help. While most adults’ bodies release a chemical signaling that it’s bedtime around 9:30 p.m., in teens that chemical isn’t released until 10:30–making sleep before 11 p.m. difficult” (“Snooze Control” 5). Since telling teens to go to bed earlier has been proven to be a non-effective solution, the only other way to ensure that teens get their full amount of rest is to push back the time that school starts.
One benefit of a later start time would be that families would have more time to prepare for school. When one is forced to wake up in the early morning in order to not be late, the brain is not fully functional. Researchers have found that when waking up too early means that one’s “memory, reaction time, ability to perform basic mathematical tasks, and alertness and attention all suffer” (Konnikova 4).
If the brain performs so badly when waking up too early, a student could end up forgetting something important at home in the pandemonium and rush to get to school. Forgetful students not only hurt themselves by failing to be able to turn in an important assignment, they burden their teachers as well. Another possible outcome is that a student could be so lethargic, he or she could end up missing the bus, and this forces parents to have to drive their kid to school, or the student could end up missing the entire day. If students had an opportunity to get some extra rest, waking up would be easier, and they would be able to think more clearly. This would benefit their parents as well, as the mornings would become less hectic.
An additional reason that schools should fix the problem of teens not getting enough rest is that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on student performance. Sleep deprived students are less able to pay attention in class and learn the material. As stated by physician M. Safwan Badr, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “You’re asking kids to learn math at a time their brains are not even awake” (“Class Times” 4).
Researchers at the University of St. Thomas found that “sleep problems had the same effects on students’ grades as binge drinking and marijuana use” (Jacobson 1). Schools always seek to have the best grades from their students, because not only do low grades affect students, they reflect badly on the school’s reputation. Logically, the clear course of action would be to tackle what happens to be one of the primary causes of poor academic performance. Nothing more than common sense and one’s personal experience is needed to know that a fatigued teen does not make an attentive one.
Bad grades are not the only consequence of not getting enough sleep, and not getting the required amount of rest every night can cause serious health problems. Sleep deprivation can result in more serious consequences than just fatigue for teens, as Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington has stated that sleeplessness can “inhibit the ability to solve problems, cope with stress, and retain information, and is often associated with problems such as depression and substance abuse” (“Later School Start” 19).
Additionally, according to the CDC, “Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for being overweight, depressed and using drugs” (“To Keep Teenagers Alert” 9). It seems ludicrous that such a widespread and serious issue would be overlooked, especially when it affects a school’s own students, and most students as well. Schools have a responsibility to protect the rudimentary wellbeing of their students, and if they already employ counselors and nurses for the students’ benefit and protection, they should be able to recognize and take measures to fix the problem of sleep deprivation, as it is the cause of some of the most serious problems a teenager can face, and the ones that schools are always aiming to prevent.
The issue of sleeplessness in teens is a widespread one, and it has been proven by numerous studies. The idea of finding a solution to such a common problem can seem daunting, but the solution is as simple as starting school later; allowing teens to get more sleep. This is proven by Researchers at the University of Minnesota, who found that “The later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores” (“To Keep Teenagers Alert” 5).
Not all schools may want to comply with a later start, so it will be necessary to have government intervention. A federal law requiring schools to start at a time later in the morning would be able to prevent the issue of schools that have varying start times in different states. Additionally, schools that do not incorporate the later starting time will lose their funding. Since the negative impacts of forcing teens to come to school too early have been recognized by government agencies before, it should time for them to take action on the matter.
Ever since Isabelle’s school changed to start two hours later, there have been many noticeable differences. Now that people were revitalized and well-rested, there are almost no incidents of kids sleeping during class, and the teachers are grateful. They are also grateful that test scores have gone up and students have actually started to pay attention. Isabelle does not show up to school exhausted every morning now, and she has started to feel happier and more energetic. The changes may not be very big, but starting school later makes a big difference in the lives of students.
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