“Beep, beep, beep, beep! Ugh! It cannot be morning already! I just went to bed.” For many teenagers, this is their first thought each morning as they drag their tired bodies out of bed to begin their day. Many experience a hang-over feeling from a lack of sleep, are frequently late to school, and have a hard time staying awake and focusing in class (National Sleep Foundation (NSF) School). According to a study conducted by Dr. Judith Owens at a co-ed boarding school in Newport, R.I., starting school just 30 minutes later was linked with significant improvements in adolescents’ reported sleep times, mood and health (Dooren). This essay will demonstrate sufficient proof that if school started later, students would be more alert, healthier, and could get the necessary amount of sleep that their bodies need.
First Main Point
One of the advantages of school starting later is that it would increase a teenager’s daytime alertness, mood, and motivation. Research shows that lack of sleep affects mood, and a depressed mood can lead to lack of sleep, which creates a vicious cycle of restlessness that prevents many teens from getting the eight to nine hours of sleep they need per night (Cline; NSF Teens). In addition, not getting enough sleep or having sleep difficulties can limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate, solve problems and cause memory problems (NSF Teens; NSF Adolescent). Conversely, studies have shown that as little as one additional hour of sleep resulted in improved functioning for both urban and suburban students, where urban students had better attendance, decreased tardiness and fewer visits to the school nurse and suburban students were able to get more homework done during the day because of increased alertness and efficiency (Cline). Additionally, students participating in a study in which school was delayed by 30 minutes received the same benefits seen in correlating studies (O’Callaghan). The research also determined that students gained as much as 45 minutes of additional sleep and fewer students reported feeling unhappy, depressed, irritated, or annoyed at the end of the two month study (O’Callaghan).
Second Main Point
Another benefit of starting school later is that it would increase a teen’s health. Sleep deprivation can lead to insomnia, and sleep apnea, causing drowsiness and fatigue, which have been attributed as causal factors in over 100,000 car crashes each year (NSF Adolescent). New research shows that teenagers who are sleep deprived are as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% which is illegal for drivers in many states (NSF Adolescent). It can also cause acne and other skin problems, aggressive or inappropriate behavior, overeating or binge eating and weight gain, increase use of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and contribute to illness, not using equipment safely, or driving drowsy (NSF Teens). It can also have a fatal effect on the immune system leaving us more susceptible to diseases and disorders such as cancer, and even the common cold. Furthermore, adolescents who have not received sufficient sleep and who consume even small amounts of alcohol are at greater risk of injury than those who are not lacking sleep because sleep loss has been shown to heighten the effects of alcohol (NSF Adolescent).
Third Main Point
Studies show that the typical high school student’s natural time to fall asleep is 11:00 pm or later and, if school started later, teenagers would get the necessary amount of sleep (NSF Adolescent). According to Dr. Mary Carskadon, research indicates that adolescents require about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night and many high school students live in “a continuous state of jet lag” due to lack of sleep (Cline). Research in the 1990’s found that later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined (NSF Adolescent). Starting classes later, closer to when teenager’s biological clocks are most ready for learning, would make a substantial difference in how much information teenagers are able to assimilate and retain (NSF Adolescent). According to the study presented to the American Thoracic Society, “Teenagers need more sleep than adults and their circadian rhythms are phase shifted so that their ideal bedtime is midnight to 1:00 a.m.; yet they have to get up at 6:30 or earlier for high school”. This study also reported that:
- ”78% of students said it was difficult to get up in the morning
- Only 16% said they regularly had enough sleep
- 70% thought their grades would improve if they had more sleep
- 90% thought their academic performance would improve if school were to start later” (American Thoracic Society).
sleep loss and sleep difficulties can have serious detrimental effects (NSF Adolescent). High school students who describe themselves as having academic problems and who are earning C’s or below in school report getting less sleep, having later bedtimes and having more irregular sleep schedules than students reporting higher grades (NSF Adolescent). Some signs of sleepiness, such as inability to stay focused on a task, impulsivity, difficulty “sitting still,” and problems completing tasks, resemble behaviors common also in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (NSF Adolescent). Studies also suggest that sleep loss may be associated with a decreased ability to control, inhibit or change emotional responses (NSF Adolescent).
Sleep is essential to teenagers because this is an age when they are growing mentally, physically, and emotionally and if school started later, students would be more alert, healthier, and could get the necessary amount of sleep that their bodies need. A lack of sleep can be detrimental to teenagers because they tend to be involved in a wide range of activities. This research aims to prompt schools to take sleep into consideration and attempts to provide concrete evidence that students could achieve more academically and could be better prepared for the future if classes started later and they could get more sleep. Circadian timing systems, which regulate teenage sleeping patterns, are very resistant to change (NSF Adolescent). According to the NSF, “Behavioral methods, such as controlled light exposure and chronotherapy, can sometimes help shift circadian timing to more socially appropriate sleep and wake times (Adolescent).
Since the circadian rhythms in teenagers are typically highly sensitive to erratic schedules, parents should make gradual, persistent and consistent changes to effectively adjust them (NSF Adolescent). For students that do have early class schedules, parents should enforce a regular sleep schedule starting at a young age and keep appropriate schedules as they grows older (Bond). They should also talk with their teen about appropriate sleep and wake schedules and their level of tiredness (Bond). It is important to discuss how much time teenagers spend engaged in extracurricular activities and after-school jobs and parents should help them make adjustments to their commitments as necessary so they can get their proper sleep needs met and stay awake and alive during the day (Bond). While sleep experts favor a school day that begins at 9:30 or 10 for teens and researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that teens who start a bit later may get better grades, until educational institutions establish sufficient mandates allowing such late starts, teenagers will have to make sure they get the proper amount of rest to reach their optimal performance (Bond).
American Thoracic Society. “Start School Later In The Morning, Say Sleepy Teens.” Science Daily, 20 May 2007. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
Bond, Cindy. “Teens and Sleep.” Family Education- Pearson Education, Inc. 2012. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://life.familyeducation.com/teen/sleep/36140.html>
Cline, John. “Do Later School Start Times Really Help High School Students?” Psychology Today 2011 Feb 27. 14 Feb. 2012 < http://www.psychologytoday.com/node/55999>
Dooren, Jennifer C. “Later Start to School Boosts Teens’ Health.” Wall Street Journal Health on the Web 2010 July 6. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704535004575349182901006438.html>
National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Adolescent Sleep Needs and Patterns. 2000. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/hot-topics/adolescent-sleep-needs-and-patterns>
National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Backgrounder: Later School Start Times. 2011. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/look-school-start-times>
National Sleep Foundation (NSF). School Start Time and Sleep. 2011. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/school-start-time-and-sleep>
National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Teens and Sleep. 2011. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep>
O’Callaghan, Tiffany. “Study: teens benefit from later school start.” Time Healthland on the Web. 2010 July 6. 14 Feb. 2012 <http://healthland.time.com/2010/07/06/study-teens-benefit-from-later-school-start/>