Early School Times are Harming the Next Generation
by Robert Cui
Do you ever feel tired waking up to go about your day? You are not alone! Guess what, 87% of our nation’s next generation of youngest and brightest minds feel the same. 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the U.S start their day before 8:30 am, according to a 2014 School Health Policies and Practice Study. This may seem perfectly fine, as it is the norm for start times. But this is, in reality, is too early for high school students. Recently, the Center for Disease Control released a statement, saying “No school should start earlier than 8:30 to give students a chance to learn at their maximum capabilities.” We can all agree that getting more sleep is beneficial. It increases the student’s capacity for learning, therefore raising test scores. The administration should push back school start times because it takes away their students’ precious sleep.
Schools starting early increases the risk of physical injury. Research has shown that students who sleep less than 8 hours sleep at night are two-thirds more likely to get injured than those who sleep more. About 20% of these injuries required a trip to the emergency room. Not all of these injuries are just wee effects from morning grogginess or clumsiness. These injuries are mostly car accidents. A study included in the “Awake at Wheel” campaign spearheaded by the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project compared the car accident rates of two school districts. Chesterfield County school district was compared to its neighbor Henrico County. Chesterfield’s high schools starts at 7:20 am, while Henrico’s high schools starts at 8:45 am. The study compared the two school district’s car accident rates right around the time school starts. Over the course of the 2009-2010 school year, the study found that Chesterfield school district’s rate of accidents was 27% higher than that of Henrico’s. The study was continued into the 2010-2011 school year and yielded similar results. Chesterfield’s car accidents were 29% more frequent than Henrico’s. As the study has shown, school starting later is a major benefit. Not getting enough sleep causes delayed reaction times, memory lapses, inability to focus, and difficulty processing environmental sensory input. When put together, these symptoms really set the scene for an accident.
In addition, drowsy driving is extremely dangerous. A report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that drivers who only slept 5-6 hours in the last 24 hours are twice as likely to crash than drivers who have slept 7 hours or more. The less sleep you get, the higher chance of an accident. This is why high schools should start later in the day, to give teens more hours of peaceful slumber and keep them safe when coming to school.
Not only is starting school early more likely for the students to get injured, but it can also have longer-lasting, impacting effects on the mind. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can lead to suicidal thoughts, drug abuse, and alcoholism. Researcher Jack Peltz wanted to dive deeper on how sleep quality and sleep hygiene correlated with anxiety attacks and depressive episodes.
Over a period of a week, the researchers asked student volunteers to keep a sleep diary. This is where they documented how well they slept, how many hours they slept, their before bed routine, how severe their anxiety attacks were and how often depressive episodes came. After a week, the researchers examined the journals of all the students, and what they found was very shocking. The results displayed a pattern between good sleep hygiene and less depressive episodes and anxiety attacks. The symptoms lessened even more for students with school starting after 8:30 am. The researchers concluded that the more sleep you get, the healthier you are mentally.
Being sleep deprived is an awful feeling, not only can it make you more sad and distressed, but it also makes you more susceptible to drugs. CASAColumbia analyzed national data to see if there was a trend in drug abuse and how much people slept. The data analysts found that getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night majorly increases chances of substance abuse. Just to name a few: People are 7% more likely to smoke and use tobacco products, 12% more likely to consume alcohol, and 6% more likely to use marijuana. According to a 2006 study by the National Sleep Foundation, about 87% of American high school students are often sleep deprived. This means out of a high school with 752 students, the national average, about 652 of those students are often sleep deprived. Meaning that at least 46 students use tobacco products, 78 students drink alcohol, and 39 students abuse marijuana. This is not all, U.S health officials found that nearly 20% of high school students vape. If we move back school start times, we can prevent portions of future high schoolers from getting addicted. The question is why would we want any more students joining because of poor decision-making skills due to sleep deprivation?
After seeing the horrible consequences not getting enough rest can have on our nation’s teens, one thought might be very obvious: “Why don’t the teens just go to sleep earlier, so they don’t have any of the problems mentioned?” Chances of drug abuse, alcoholism, anxiety attacks, depression symptoms, physical injury and car accidents can be reduced if teens just sleep more. Although this may seem like a surefire way for high schoolers to fend off any nasty surprises sleep deprivation, in reality, it often fails.
Multiple reasons contribute to this, one reason of this is because of the shift in the circadian rhythm right around the time of puberty. We can all agree that almost all high schoolers are going through puberty or have just stopped. This means that high school students are still experiencing the shift in circadian rhythm. The circadian is the body’s internal clock, it governs when you get sleepy when you feel energized, and it directly controls the time you sleep and wake up. During puberty, the circadian rhythm shifts a couple of hours back, meaning sleeping time is moved back, to around 10 or 11 pm. This is a big problem, seeing that most high schools in the U.S starts at 8 am. It doesn’t leave enough time for the 8-10 hours of sleep teens need. It currently may seem like enough time, but a few more reasons add up to make the start time too pressuring on students.
Typically, high schoolers get an average of 3.5 hours of homework each day, but this varies on the student and the particular high school they go to. Not only is homework a big factor, sports, after-school clubs, and extra-curricular activities all take a chunk out of a high schooler’s day, forcing them to work well into the night. A report released by the NFHS, the National Federation of State High School Association, found that 55% of high school students play sports, and sports practices usually last 2 hours. Those who do not participate in sports are likely to participate in clubs. To add on more, the U.S Census Bureau found that 25% of high schoolers work part-time. With all of these added together, it is no wonder that teens are sleep deprived. 3.5 hours of homework, 2 hours of sports/clubs, 1-4 hours of work, dinner, and social time adds up to about 7 hours, give or take. These activities are forcing students to go to sleep later, around 11-12 pm, sometimes even 1-2 am when studying for tests or prepping for college. There is simply not enough time to get it all done in time for 8 hours of sleep.
To face the fact, teens are sleep deprived, and there is nothing we can do about it except to move back school start times. This will help them get the much-needed rest, along with better mentality and quick decision-making skills that might be the difference between school and hospital. With the current situation, the number of high schoolers smoking, vaping, drinking, having anxiety attacks, and experiencing depressive episodes is only going to go up. Why don’t we do our future generation a favour, and let them get their much needed Zzz.