Should Schools Start Later?

Credit...Leo Espinosa

Credit…Leo Espinosa

Adolescents today face an epidemic: insufficient sleep

As a high school senior at BASIS Independent Brooklyn, I have spent late nights writing 1000-word essays and studying for my three AP tests the following day, cramming while I should be in bed. Should I sleep or finish this assignment? Sure, the National Sleep Foundation says that we need nine to ten hours of sleep per night for “optimal academic performance and health,” but I just read that and laugh. Between school, extra-curriculars, completing assignments, studying, and fulfilling duties at home, ten hours of sleep per night seems comical. This crucial lack of sleep that many of us experience can lead to an increased risk of injuries, reduced self-control, substance use, perilous behavior, depressive moods, increased suicidal thoughts, and plentiful more consequences disruptive to our mental and physical health. Furthermore, melatonin secretions have shown that mature adolescents have later circadian rhythm patterns and a reduced development of homeostatic sleep cycles during the period of wakefulness—it is challenging for me to go to sleep early and wake up early. This change in puberty is why many teenagers find it difficult to fall asleep before 11:00 PM, why many of us struggle to keep our heads off the desk and focus. How can we aid the 73% of high school students that the American Academy of Pediatrics claims is not getting adequate sleep? How can we reduce the future risk of heart disease that Harvard Medical School said can be linked to insufficient sleep in Adolescents?

A delayed start time in schools.  

Most schools in the US start before 8:30 A.M. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 states have reported that over 75% of their schools start before 8:30 A.M. Recalling circadian rhythm, how are we expected to learn European History when our brain isn’t fully awake? Even a 30 minute delay to start time can lead to increased alertness, less dependency on caffeine, better relationships with friends and family, improved memory, and stronger decision-making skills. In recent years, doctors have started to share this critical information to the public, warning people that there are many debilitating consequences to inadequate sleep among adolescents. Thus, some schools have begun to change their start times: California is the first state in the US to enact a law that pushes back the start time in middle schools and high schools. This newly signed law implements high schools to start no later than 8:30, treasuring the mental and physical health of its students. Why did it take so long for schools to make this change? Why hasn’t New York enacted such a law? There are numerous advantages to students starting later, however, there aren’t any advantages for students starting school when the sun hasn’t even risen. For example, A 2017 study from the University of Minnesota showed that when students started school later, they not only slept more but also illustrated better health and less substance use. The sample size of 9,000 students also revealed a correlation between delayed start time and better attendance and tardy records among those who slept more. The many academic journals, articles, and studies all point to one thing: pushing back the morning bell for school tremendously benefits adolescents in many ways. 

People often warn adolescents against the use of drugs and alcohol, pressuring students to work hard and stay out of trouble. Why isn’t this same mindset applied to sleep?