Having trouble keeping your eyes open in the morning? You are not alone. Many students across the world struggle to get adequate sleep.
Sleep is an important thing our bodies needs, but high school students just can’t get enough of it. This leads to poor academic performance and health problems. Many teens struggle to wake up in the morning, with some even sleeping during class. The idea of starting schools later to prevent teen sleep deprivation has been discussed for a while now but while it could help fix the issue and boost overall student performance, school officials argue that it disrupts the flow of school scheduling.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on August 25 of 2014 citing research that shows that adolescents are better off when school starts after 8:30. Adolescents who don’t receive adequate amounts of sleep suffer physical and mental health problems, which could then lead to impairments in mood, memory, attention and also their overall quality of life. Insufficient sleep also takes a toll on students academically, with 28% of US students reported to have falling asleep in school at least once a week, cited by a National Sleep Foundation poll.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said Dr. Judith Owens, lead author of the policy statement.
CBC News reports that in Vancouver, B.C., nearly 1,600 high school students are late or skip first block every day with the start time of 8:30-8:40 am, according to the Vancouver School Board data. The data also states that first period attendance worsens as students get older, with 4% in grade 8 and 9% in the senior year of high school.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that the consequences of sleep deprivation in the teenage years are particularly serious. Teens spend most of their day in school; however, they can not capitalize on their learning opportunities in class because sleep deprivation impairs their ability to be alert, solve problems, pay attention and retain information. Lack of adequate sleep can cause young people to experience emotional and behavioural problems such as irritability and even depression. It also can provoke an increase in teen substance abuse in high school students.
Some may think the solution to this is for students to just go to sleep earlier to receive an adequate amount of rest needed, but it isn’t as easy as they think. UCLA Health claims that as teens hit the stage of puberty, for boys at the age of 9 and 14 and girls at 10 and 14, their sleep-wake cycle changes making it harder to fall asleep earlier. The sleep-wake cycle is delayed an hour or two as teens grow, meaning that the melatonin production in the brain is released at a later time, explaining why teens are tired later in the night than when they were at a younger age. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the brain to tell your body that it’s time to fall asleep and when to wake up. According to the AAP’s research, the average teenager \ has trouble falling asleep before 11:00 p.m and is best woken up at 8:00 a.m or later.
The initial study of this issue dates back to 1996. By 2005, more than 250 high schools in the U.S converted to a later start time. The National Sleep Foundation found that absences, tardiness, and sleepiness in those schools had significantly decreased and student attitudes were better in classrooms, with greater improvement in alertness. Schools in many areas of the world are following this trend as well. Much like the U.S, Singapore also has a problem with sleep deprivation amongst teens where most teens receive six and a half hours each night. Most schools in Singapore start at 7:30 a.m, which is an hour earlier than the AAP recommends. Researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore conducted an experiment where 375 students from an all-girls’ secondary school, ranging from grade 7 to 10, were selected to participate. School time was delayed 45 minutes to 8:15 a.m. The results collected were similar to what was found in the U.S, with the participating students reporting that they feel less sleepy, as well as reporting an increase in alertness during class.
The majority of school districts in the U.S oppose the idea of delaying school start times, despite the recommendation by the AAP. School officials say that delaying would disrupt the flow of the school schedule, meaning bus schedule would have to be rearranged and students would have to be let out at a later time which potentially could be a safety concern. Critics who oppose also say that students would stay up much later knowing that they won’t have to wake up at an earlier time to go to school.
Parents that are concerned for their child’s health due to the start times can help advocate for them and voice their concerns at school board meetings, as well spreading the word to other parents in your community. If you are able to gain enough support for this issue, school officials will have to rethink their school schedules and hopefully, create a change to benefit students. It’s about time these school officials get a wakeup call.