Adequate sleep is one of the main concerns of today’s teenagers. Despite years of efforts to improve student health and performance by starting classes later, only a handful of schools have adopted this policy.
According to researchers, teenagers are among the least sleep-deprived in the United States. On average, teenagers don’t get enough sleep, and more importantly, they don’t get quality sleep. Although cell phones and other light-emitting technology are effective in keeping them awake at night, night wakings are only part of the reason. In addition to technology, a relatively undeniable factor exacerbates this sleepiness: school start times.
Over the decades, researchers have accumulated evidence that delaying middle and high school first bell times benefits adolescents’ physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as their academic performance. These results have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several medical associations. The state of California and some schools in other districts have implemented this policy.
However, many other regions are reluctant to change their work policy for logistical, financial, or cultural reasons. This approach is unfair to teenagers. The current generation of students has suffered enough during the Covid-19 pandemic; Therefore, by postponing the start of classes, we should prioritize their health and well-being. Respecting their biological and social needs will make them more flexible adults who can thrive in a world of unpredictable complexity.
Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep a night, but currently sleep only about 7 hours. At the age of puberty, the body’s circadian cycle shifts by a few hours; That means they get tired later at night and wake up later in the morning than before. This change is reversed in adulthood. The biological nature of this daily rhythm means that sending a teenager to bed earlier does not necessarily mean that he will wake up earlier.
Adolescents lose both restorative sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep; Especially the cycles that usually happen right before a person wakes up. Restorative sleep helps the body regenerate after a hard day and may improve immune system function and other biological processes. REM sleep consolidates events and learning into memories. When a 10th grader who normally goes to sleep around 11pm has to wake up at 6am to go to school. Therefore, teenagers lose their sleep not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Sleep and rest on the weekend cannot compensate for this lack of sleep.
In recent surveys, students have said that if schools start later, they won’t be tired all day; They are more likely to arrive at school on time and complain less about waking up.
According to them, as sleep time decreases, the use of tobacco and drugs and sleep aids increases. In addition, one less hour of sleep per day has caused a feeling of despair or even a desire to commit suicide among these teenagers.
Studies indicate that the risk of suicide in children increases during the school year, and lack of sleep can be one of the contributing factors. Also, one less hour of sleep per day has a significant relationship with weight gain. Sleepy teens are more prone to car accidents, and even an extra 30 minutes of sleep can help alleviate some mental health concerns. Even teachers have reported that by starting classes later, students are more engaged and teachers have more time to rest and recover.
Despite decades of study, only a handful of schools in several states and the District of Columbia have moved to 8:30 a.m. On average, according to researchers, the best time to start school is at 9 am.
However, achieving this goal requires a complicated path: the schedule of buses and the teaching staff of schools need to be changed; Sports and strengthening programs will start later after school; Considering that children’s schools start earlier than teenagers, parents may prioritize children in order to attend schools on time; Adults with inflexible work schedules may be late for work.
According to experts, the agriculture-based lifestyle was designed to wake teenagers up early so they could return home from the fields before dark; But this model is no longer suitable for most modern students. Our cultural view of teenagers as lazy and in need of sleep as a weakness is harmful and inaccurate. In addition, comparing your teenage years with the teenagers of this period is cruel and far from science.
Access to education is a fundamental right in the United States, but it’s time to stop considering when school starts as immutable. It is imperative that more states review the start time rule; school boards to add start times to their operating system; Government-level funding agencies remove barriers; employers to be more flexible, especially regarding working hours; Associations consisting of teachers and other youth education professionals should also be included in the discussion.
For decades, we have ignored overwhelming evidence that delaying school starts contributes to adolescent success and health. Now is the time of change; Let the teenagers sleep.