Here’s a common sight. It’s almost 8 a.m., and students are rushing to get to homeroom before the bell rings so they aren’t marked late. Many students still look half-asleep, trying to wake themselves up with coffee.
The average start-time for schools in America is 8 a.m., and many students will agree that school starts too early in the morning; however, it isn’t just students who think that. Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist (one who studies health and disease) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that science agrees with these students.
Wheaton’s job is to figure out what causes certain health problems, and many of the problems she has seen relates to the lack of sleep caused by school.
Sleep is crucial, especially for students. Teens and students that do not get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from depression, perform poorly in school, become overweight, form unhealthy habits, and abuse drugs and/or alcohol. To avoid this, it’s important for teens to get at least eight or nine hours of sleep every night.
Starting school too early also decreases the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is very important for teens to get enough of in order to control their moods.
After polling 40 students and adults, 13 people said they get five or less hours of sleep every night, 21 people said they get six to seven hours of sleep, and only six people said they get about eight or more hours of sleep. The results show that the majority of people most likely do not get the full 8 hours of sleep that’s needed for a productive day.
Mary Bruning, a sophomore at PV, said, “It’s usually really hard for me to fall asleep, and sometimes I’ll end up only getting four or five hours of sleep. It’s even harder to wake up in the morning.”
Many people argue that teens can just go to bed earlier, but that isn’t always the case. Teenagers often go to bed after 10 or 11 p.m., and there is a reason for that. Many teens go through shifts in sleep cycles, making it hard to fall asleep early. Students under stress can also experience more difficulty falling asleep.
If the teens that go to bed late also have to wake up before 7 a.m., it’s practically impossible to get the full eight or nine hours of sleep. Without that, they will barely be able to focus and concentrate on schoolwork the next morning. Janis Croft at the CDC says that “schools start at such an early time that most teens are essentially brain-dead when they go to these classes”. This means students could perform poorly in class, especially the earlier classes, because of their school’s start time.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all middle schools and high schools start after or at 8:30 a.m. Although many schools have changed their start times because of this, it’s very unlikely all schools will.
The goal for pediatricians and scientists, and many students as well, is to make the importance of sleep and a later school start-time more known to everyone.