School start times up for debate

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Every morning in the United States, 17.3 million sleepy high school students wrench themselves from their warm beds and begin the unholy trek to school. Of these 17.3 million  teenagers, 14.7 million suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.

High schoolers are not getting enough sleep, and it is proving detrimental to both their health and their academics. According to the Center for Disease Control, not catching enough Z’s on the daily can lead to an increased risk of obesity, car accidents, substance abuse, and poor grades.

“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 pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, in an article written by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  

In a study by the National Sleep Foundation, 85% of high school students were found to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, compared to only a very small percentage of elementary school students. Why are high school students chronically sleepy at the same time younger children are wide awake?

High schoolers are not simply staying up late because they don’t anticipate the consequences of the following morning, but because their bodies don’t begin to secrete melatonin (a sleep inducing chemical), until 11 PM or 12 AM. “I usually got to bed at 9:00 but I’m still awake and thinking until around 10:30 or 11:00,” said Sophomore Cece Landrus.

In high school, students are at a stage of adolescence when their circadian rhythm begins to change. On average, a teenager’s natural sleep patterns shift 2-3 hours later as they mature, leaving them out of sync with a traditional eight to three school schedule. As a result, the average high school student only gets seven hours of sleep a night, much less than the recommended nine and a half hours.

The epidemic of sleepy teenagers has reached record proportions, and the solution is so painfully obvious that the fact it has not been implemented by more schools is shocking. If teenagers are no longer in sync with traditional school schedules, and it is detrimentally affecting them, why not shift the starting and ending times of the school day to accommodate their sleep needs?

Whether or not future teenagers will find themselves pressing snooze at 6:30 AM or waking up rested and bright-eyed at 10:30 AM is yet to be seen, but what we know now is that it is time for adults to wake up to this issue, and save the sleep deprived generation.