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Sleep Deprivation in Teenagers

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Growing up, I always had decent grades in elementary school, but when the switch from elementary to secondary school happened, my grades took a plunge into the deep zone of the grade pool. My parents always credited my poor GPA to laziness and a lack of motivation; however, I believed it was something much more. Once I hit my junior year in high school, I was able to take a “gap period” in the mornings which allowed me to come into school every day at 8:45 a.m. Suddenly my grades changed, and so did my motivation to do better in school. My GPA went from a 2.1 to a 3.5 within a year. I went from a below average student to an above average student within a couple of months of changing my schedule. It got me thinking, what changed? I attributed the sudden change to me being able to come into school at a later time; therefore, receiving an hour more of sleep every night. This lead me to think that a full night of rest (7-8 hours) as a high school student can lead to a better attention span, therefore making students receive better grades. The only way to solve this sleep deprivation crisis in teenagers is to have schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later because according to the national sleep foundation the average teenager doesn’t go to sleep until 11:00 p.m.. There are few schools in the United States that have moved their school start times to after 8:30 a.m, according to the centers for disease control and prevention, “93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the U.S. started before 8:30 a.m.” and the ones that have changed their school start time to a later time, have reaped the benefits tremendously. I will be writing about a district that has moved their school start time to a later time and the benefits the school districts students have gained as well as a research study done by Julie Maslowsky and Emily J. Ozer that talks about how sleep insufficiency affects the overall health of an adolescent. I will be inserting a counter argument as well to help understand why this early school start time has not been changed yet.

To begin my research, I watched a TED Talk on how sleep can affect a person (especially a teenager) called, “Why school should start later for teens” presented by Wendy Troxel, that presents statistical data as well as the perspective from herself, a sleep analyst, who is a parent and how she sees first-hand how a lack of sleep affects her kid. Troxel focuses on sleep deprivation amongst teenagers and how it can affect them in negative ways from grades, to their overall bodily health, and even their driving habits. Her speech is a persuasive and motivational speech for parents, teachers, and some kids to watch and realize how much sleep (or lack of sleep) can really affect a growing and learning teenager’s day.

Troxel begins her speech by telling the audience of her morning routine and the strain she has to go through every day to wake her teenage son up at 6 a.m. for school. She explains how bad she feels about doing this to her own son because she knows that by doing this she is depriving her own son of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which is a crucial part of the sleep cycle that aids in long-term and short-term memory. “Waking a teenager up at 6 a.m. is the biological equivalent to waking an adult up at 4 a.m.,” states Troxel, “driving a car with a less than 5 hours of sleep per night is like driving a car with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.”

After this hard to hear information, she gives an example of a school in Minnesota who changed their school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and how the district saw a 70% decrease in teen vehicular accidents across the time frame of a year. Troxel also talks of how sleep deprivation can lead to even more devastating problems outside the class room such as substance use, depression, and suicide. Troxel states that, “teens with sleep problems were more than 55% more likely to use alcohol in the past month, in another study with over 30,000 high school students, they found that with each hour of lost sleep, there was a 38 percent increase in feeling sad or hopeless, and a 58 percent of teen suicide attempts.” This type of information makes her speech a persuasive speech, she encourages people to get educated on sleep and how much it can really impact a person’s day, especially a growing teenager’s day. She mentions that the typical “teenage behaviors” such as “moodiness, laziness, irritability, and depression could be a product of chronic sleep deprivation”. During the speech, the camera pans out towards the audience filled with teens and parents and you can see that the information Troxel presents is really impacting the audience due to the shocked expressions on their faces. At the end of her speech, she talks of the school districts that moved their school start times to an hour later and talks of the benefits the school districts reaped; such as the increase of attendance, grades, and the overall well-being of the student’s health. There was a 25% drop in absences and a 70% drop in car accidents within the district. Troxel kept a confident and calm composure throughout her speech and maintained eye contact with the audience, she made effective pauses throughout her speech after hard-to-hear information was given, such as the drunk driving incident, leaving the audience time to think on and relate to the information. Troxel’s speech was informative and persuasive, she gave the audience facts and left them with a hook to think about at the end of her speech. She did an effective job at delivering the information in the least biased way possible. This presentation was extremely helpful because it was more focused to my research combined with a personal experience from a sleep analyst herself. Wendy Troxel hit every point I was looking for, by presenting a district that changed their start time to a later time and got phenomenal results from it.

To expand on Wendy Troxels research in a decrease of vehicular accidents caused by teenagers in one district, I will be talking about other districts that have changed their school start times and the changes that they saw in the road safety in their communities. Studies have found that “inadequate sleep in teenagers increases the risk of traffic accidents” states a research article written by Nancy Shute. This proves that sleep deprivation due to early school start times not only affects students in school but it also affects them and others safety outside of school. There have been multiple times when I had to wake up for school and it was still dark out because it was so early, students should not have to wake up this early in order to get to school. Later school start times will also encourage students to attend school on time rather than not show up or be late every time. A study conducted through the University of Washington states that over 10 percent of students come in late to class due to early school start times. Driving while sleep-deprived not only puts your life at risk but it also puts other people’s life at risk if you get into an accident. In Fayette County, Kentucky, “teen crash rates dropped 16.5 percent in two years after start times were delayed one hour, while the teen crash rate in the state went up 7.8 percent at the same time” states a blog written by Mark Fischetti.

Sleep deprivation can lead to a multitude of affects, especially weight gain in students. I was overweight in the beginning of high school as well and struggled to meet physical standards all the time for the main sport that I did in high school, field hockey. Another positive that changed when I was able to move my schedule back so I could arrive at school after 9 a.m. was my weight loss. “Sleep deprivation causes changes hormones that regulate hunger and appetite,” states an article written by a doctor researching the correlation between sleep deprivation and weight gain. The article written by the Sleep Doctor talks of how not getting enough sleep the previous night can increase your cravings for “fat and sugar-laden foods.”

A journal written by Julie Maslowsky and Emily J. Ozer informs people of how sleep patterns in adolescents can affect their overall health and academic achievements. In this article, she argues that early school start times affect students in many ways that could put their overall health at risk as well as their grades in school. It shows longitudinal studies of 20,745 adolescents sleep patterns in 7th through 12th grade. These studies have been going on since 1994-2008. The participants were asked a series of questions from “How many hours of sleep do you usually get,” “On days when you go to work, school, or similar activities, what time do you usually wake up,” and “On days that you don’t have to get up at a certain time what time do you usually wake up?”. The percentage of individuals reporting less than 6 hours of sleep a night increased from 1.1% to 8.5% in adolescents. That percentage quickly decreased when those adolescents reached early adult hood from ages 18-19. She uses Logos first to appeal to the audience (because we were all in high school at some point) by telling them how the lack of sleep affects student’s overall health going into the future. Then she uses Ethos many times with relevant statistics on how sleep affects children and how much sleep teens actually get per night.

When reading this, she easily convinces the audience that teenagers do not get enough sleep per night due to the early school start times in America and gets the audience thinking why schools start so early in the first place if all these negative things come out of early school start times. So, what does this show us? This shows us that the younger generation reports less sleep then the older generation. Why is this? Secondary school. Why is this important? Adolescents should be getting 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night because they are in their developmental phase, if children are reporting less then 6 hours of sleep a night they could easily develop health issues such as underdevelopment, obesity, diabetes, and start to struggle academically.

There are many arguments around this topic because of parents and teachers. Parents are concerned about their pick-up times and work and teachers are concerned because they feel like moving school to start around 8:30 a.m. will do nothing to help the teenagers focus better in school. My solution for this is to switch the bus schedules with the elementary schoolers because elementary schoolers biological clock is different. According to the national sleep foundation, children around the ages from 5-10 are predestined to go to bed around 8-9 p.m. at night and wake up around 6 a.m., where teenagers biological clock is predestined to have them go to sleep at around 11 p.m. every night and have then wake up around 8 a.m. or later every day. My solution is to switch the bus schedules to have the elementary schoolers get picked up around 7 a.m. when the middle/high schoolers typically get picked up and have the high schoolers get picked up around 8 a.m. when the elementary schoolers normally get picked up. By doing this, there will be no raise in taxes and the transportation issue that parents are worried about will be solved. By doing this, teachers will also have more time to get to school in the mornings and not have to start their days so early, having the right amount of sleep will not only be beneficial to the students but also to the teachers and school staff. By having more sleep everybody will be able to make more concise decisions and bring average teachers to above average teachers just by giving them an extra hour of sleep each night. By students grades and attendance going up, the schools will get more funding from the government for an overall better education.

Although there are many positives to pushing school start times to later, there could be negative consequences from doing this. Later start times would put buses on the roads closer to rush hour when school gets out, affect families’ child care arrangements, and whether or not students can work part time. A U.S. census found that 1 out of 4 teenagers in middle through high school hold after school part time jobs to either support themselves or their families. This is crucial because 80 percent of students are funding their college with their own money and loans according to a survey distributed by CSNBC. While all of these are negative outcomes, the percent of people actually affected by these, doesn’t come close to the positive outcomes of a later start time. These are all sacrifices that teenagers can give up in order to obtain a brighter future. In the study above talked about in the TED talk by Wendy Troxel she talks of how graduation rates raised as school start times were moved back. can be given up in order to help increase student performance within the school district.

Extracurricular after school activities will be moved back as well, meaning some students won’t get out of school until 3:00-4:30 p.m., although after school activities are not existent, they are not crucial to receiving your degree. You don’t go to school to play sports and join clubs, you go to school to get an education. An argument could be that a later school start time might discourage students from participation in after school activities. This is not necessarily true, students that do extracurricular activities participate in them because they genuinely like that activity, so the time in which they start doesn’t ‘t change anything. It is important for a student to be able to manage their schedule efficiently and start being more independent earlier. A later school start time wouldn’t result in a change of participation in these activities or necessarily a change of schedule.

The journal by Julie Maslowsky and Emily J. Ozer uses many different sources to back up their information. Their journal is coming from a scientific stand point instead of a biased stand point. It is similar to my other sources I am using for this research project but it is more plentiful and reliable in relaying information about sleep patterns in adolescents through their adult hood. The goal of this source is to educate the public on how sleep patterns differ from child hood to adult hood and how adolescents should be getting more sleep because they are in their developmental stage in life physically and mentally.

The TED talk by Wendy Troxel presented the perspective from a sleep analysist that is also a parent having to see their own child go through the struggles of sleep deprivation. She is an advocate for later school start times despite the change in the pick-up schedules. She offers reliable information in support of later school start times.

The arguments against later school start times such as later pick-up times and after school activities can all be argued with plausible solutions. Such as changing the bus schedule with the elementary schoolers.

All of these sources support my research and my argument for why school start times should be moved to a later time, although there are some counter arguments as to why school shouldn’t start later such as later pick up and drop off times, the benefits outweigh the negatives by a land slide. If we were to make it a federal policy that schools should start no later than 8:30 a.m. we would start seeing major differences in not only the student’s overall behavior and grades but also the safety of the district because of the decrease of car crashes caused by sleep deprived students. They help define how much sleep children should be getting compared to how much sleep they actually get. It’s helpful to see information stretched out by two decades showing us how people develop their sleep patterns throughout their life in Julie Maslowsky and Emily J. Ozer. And fascinating to see that once a child becomes a young adult, (graduates from secondary school) they almost immediately develop a regular sleep pattern because they get to create their own schedule with most students choosing classes starting after 8 a.m.. School start times should start no later than 8:30 a.m., because if they don’t, teens will continue to degrade in health and their overall academic performance.

Sources Cited

  1. Breus, Michael. “Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain.” Your Guide to Better Sleep, TheSleepDoctor, 5 Apr. 2018,
  2. Coppernoll, Carrie. “1 In 4 High School Students Work, U.S. Census Finds, Including Many in Oklahoma to Support Families.”, NewsOK, 25 Jan. 2013,
  3. Fischetti, Mark. “Sleepy Teens: High School Should Start Later in the Morning.” Scientific American Blog Network, 26 Aug. 2014,
  4. Langfield, Amy. “These Kids Today-Have to Pay up for College.” CNBC, CNBC, 10 Aug. 2013,
  5. Maslowsky, Julie, and Emily J. Ozer. ‘Developmental Trends in Sleep Duration in Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Evidence from a National United States Sample.’ Journal of Adolescent Health54.6 (2014): 691-97. Web.
  6. “Schools Start Too Early | Features | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  7. Shute, Nancy. “Less Sleep For Teens Means Higher Risk For Car Crashes.” NPR, NPR, 21 May 2013,
  8. “Sleep for Teenagers.” National Sleep Foundation,
  9. “Sleep Now, Learn Later: Delayed School Start Times Can Have a Big Impact on Student Health.” The Free Library, now, learn later: Delayed school start times can have a big…-a0573714320.
  10. Troxel, Wendy. TED,

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