Teenagers need more Sleep Alex Dahl

Zach Powers

Issues Paper 2000 words

High school students need to get more sleep.

Asking a teenager to wake up at 7:30 in the morning for school is like asking an adult to wake up at 4:00 am (Blad). Teenagers have different circadian rhythms compared to children who have not gone through puberty and adults. Teenagers naturally go to sleep, and wake up later than the rest of society. Along with other things, in order for teenagers to perform well in school, stay healthy, and have high self-esteem they need to sleep for nine to ten hours every night. Younger kids who haven’t been through puberty naturally wake up earlier. There has been scientific research to prove these claims but it is difficult and expensive to simply change the start time of a high school. Some schools in the United States have made the change and started school later; these schools have enjoyed grade improvements and an overall build in moral (Wheaton). So why won’t schools help students be better people and start school at a natural time. Parents who have had children go to schools that start later notice that their kids go to bed at the same time and get more sleep because their schools starts later (Blad). Schools should shift the bussing schedule and make better communities that raise outstanding citizens. Starting school for teenagers later in the day will help improve grades and health, even though it is difficult, schools in the United States should do whatever it takes to shift their start time to match the natural sleep cycles of teenagers.

I am writing this paper from a biased point of view. I enjoyed high school but the shroud of sleepiness hung over my head throughout my career. My senior year of high school I’m not sure if I went a day without dozing off in one of my classes. I am probably an outlier among tired students in high school, but I know that I was not the only one. Only 20% of students get the suggested nine hours of sleep in a night (Survey). I was lucky to get around six and half hours of sleep. I got very good at falling asleep in class and could slip into a nap very quickly. For some reason I was tired all day until around ten at night when I would perk up and finally feel good. I would start and finish my homework late at night and then go to sleep and repeat this process. As an immature teenager I wonder what it would be like if my parents would have taken over and helped me get better sleep. I know that I can’t blame my problems with sleeping on my parents but it would have been nice if they could have taken away all distractions and forced me to go to sleep. Of course this sounds good now but at the time I am sure it would have been a tough adjustment. Teenagers are always doing dumb stuff right? I remember staying awake sometimes until two am watching netflix just because I could. Writing this paper I realize that my teenager brain was not smart enough to make the rational decision to turn off the electronics and go to bed on time.

The root of the problem lies with a parental gap between teenagers and their parents. In a national poll conducted in 2006 by the 90% of parents polled that they thought their child was getting enough sleep a couple nights a week (Survey). This statistic does not match up with the one that says 28% of high school students fall asleep in class during the week (Survey). My parents used to go to bed around 10 and I wouldn’t see them until the morning. Parents always know whats best right? I wonder what I would have said if my parents restricted my electronic usage at nine pm on school nights? Looking at stimulants like the T.V or a cell phone does not help the body wind down and fall asleep. “Modern technology has significantly altered how and when we might naturally sleep” (Carroll). It is important to turn off all screens at least an hour before bed. Taking a bath and reading a book are some of the good ways to let the brain relax before bed. “Over the last 103 years, there have been consistent rapid declines in the sleep duration of children and adolescents.” (Loughran). Blue light from electronics inhibits the release of melatonin and stops adolescents from falling asleep. One of the reasons adolescents cant fall asleep is because the part of their brain that makes rational decisions like going to bed on time is not fully developed (Blad). Teenagers have a difficult time relating their actions to consequences. This is another example that supports the claim that parents should be more involved in helping their children get to bed earlier. Maybe kids electronic devices could be set to automatically turn off after a certain time at night. It has not been proven that electronics has directly caused this trend but it makes sense. Looking at blue light stimulates the brain and doesn’t allow the body to relax and fall asleep. Limiting screen time before bed and limiting screen time in general throughout the day can help teenagers get more exercise and go to sleep earlier. I wonder if my parents would have restricted my phone use if they understood the facts about electronics and sleep. I wonder if I would have listened to them when they told me to put my phone away before bed.

Most parents complain about moody unfriendly teenagers. I know that mine did. But who knew that the solution to many of these problems comes from more sleep. On average 45% of adolescents get insufficient amounts of sleep on school nights (Survey). There is a massive shift in wake times and bedtimes of teenagers from weekdays to weekends and this is part of the reason they don’t get enough sleep during the week. A typical Junior in high school will wake up at 6:30 am and go to sleep at 11:00 pm. On the weekends they usually wake up around 10:00 am and go to sleep around 12:30 (Sleep). This natural sleep on the weekends makes it difficult for adolescants to wake up for school on Monday. After Monday it takes teenagers a while to reajust to this forced sleep schedule. I remember Teusdays used to be almost harder than Mondays because my body was reajusting. So what if parents woke their children up earlier on weekends or made them go to bed earlier. But this natural sleep on the weekend is very important for teenagers to catch up on their health. The public school system has been in place for years without much change. Maybe this traditional system is flawed and needs to be replaced. Maybe school could go 6 days a week and be shorter.

One way in which school systems are challenging the norm is implementing the four-day school week instead of the traditional five-day week. This has been a recent shift in school districts and there have been many pros and cons. Most of the time this has been happening in elementary schools but who is to say it wouldn’t work for high school kids. Teachers have been able to prepare better lessons on Friday instead of Saturday and spend more time with students during the day. For example, students can now write a rough draft of a paper at school and work on finishing with their teacher. This shift has saved money. But it has also increased costs for some parents and decreased in workers wages. The biggest con has been the decrease in access to schools for income students. Some schools have seen student improvement while other schools have returned to the five day school week after seeing no improvement (Long). There are many alternatives to the traditional school week that will help students get more sleep and live healthier lives.

Another alternative would be to switch the busing schedule within a school district. Most school districts run the buses for the high school first, middle school second and elementary last. But really it wouldn’t be that bad to flip that and have the elementary school run first. Or some school districts have started having their students take public transportation to fix the bussing issue. Simply running more buses would be too expensive in already underfunded school systems. To get around this some school districts have gotten creative by having their high school kids take public transportation instead of the school’s buses (Norton). There are many solutions to this problem it seems like school districts are just too stuborn and unwilling. Some school districts have started charging parents for their kids to ride the bus. If this was the case they could charge parents and get more busses to fix the solution.

The frustrating thing for me is the schools that have changed their start date and had improved test scores and other school districts still refuse to adjust. Most people think that for teenagers to get more sleep all they have to do is go to bed earlier but it really is not that simple. Adolescent brains release melatonin later in the day compared to adults and therefore go to sleep much later in the day (Norton). One major example of a school system changing its start time was the Fairfax County School district in Virginia. They were approved to start their school between 8 and 8:10. They shifted their time to comply with the research proven and even though there was backlash from parents they thought it was important enough to figure out logistically (Blad). The tricky thing is until some school districts have tried this out and research has been conducted. The test scores of these students might go up but there is also a good change that they will be unaffected. Criticizers of starting school later talk about the difficulties that would come from after school sports and jobs. Families might have to pay for day care before school started for the younger children going to elementary school in the family. This is why the idea to restrict electronic usage before bed time to reduce the affects of blue light is one of the best options. If school districts moved the start time even an hour later in the day. Moral of students would improve drastically. Going against the grain and changing the norm is always awkward but this is something that needs to be done.

Research has been conducted, proven and published by scientific organizations proving that teenagers need more sleep than adults. Their circadium rythyms maket it difficult to go to sleep before midnight and rise early in the morning. Compared to the rest of the world teenagers naturally go to sleep later than most people and naturally want to rise later in the day. Adults and teenagers often have said. Why don’t they just go to bed early they are just lazy. But it is not that simple. Getting deficient amount of sleep can cause a multitude of negative effects. A continuous lack of sleep can cause a higher risk of obesity, low self esteem, poor performance in school and a multitude of other negative effects.

Schools and communities know that they should start school later but they haven’t complied to the common sense because it is very difficult to just switch a schools start time to later in the day. Buses have to be rearranged. Starting the high school later effects middle schools and elementary schools. As well as after school sports and part time jobs. Parents who need to drop their little kids off at elementary school would have a difficult time if the school started earlier or later. Day care would have to be provided. But all in all it would be completely worth it to change the start time of high school. When I was going to school I would usually go to bed at midnight on weekdays and weekends. It was very difficult for me to go to bed earlier. I tried regularily swimming at the local pool to try and tire myself out. I tried meditation and sleep apps where a man with an Irish accent speaks softly into your ears and helps you relax. I made it out of high school alive and I was accepted into college so I don’t have much to complain about but maybe if my high school started at a reasonable time I would be able to remember the things that were taught to me. The proven research is too convincing for school districts to keep ignoring. Communities and schools need to step away from the norm and make the change to a later start time in order to create better citizens.

Works Cited

Blad, Evie. “Despite Research on Teens’ Sleep, Change to School Start Times Difficult.” Education Week 23 Sept. 2015: 1+. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Carroll, Aaron E. “Schools Are Slow to Learn That Sleep Deprivation Hits Teenagers Hardest.” The New York Times. N.p., 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/29/upshot/schools-are-slow-to-learn-that-sleep-deprivation-hits-teenagers-hardest.html?_r=2>.

Long, Cindy. “Four-Day School Weeks More Popular, But Impact on Students and Educators Unclear.” neaToday. N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. <http://neatoday.org/2016/01/14/four-day-school-week-pro-con/>.

Loughran, Sarah. “Why screen time before bed is bad for children.” The Conversation. N.p., 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2016. <http://theconversation.com/why-screen-time-before-bed-is-bad-for-children-46464>.

Norton, Amy. “Stop starting school days so early, doctors say.” CBS News. N.p., 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/stop-starting-school-days-so-early-doctors-say/>.

“Sleep In America Poll.” National Sleep Foundation. N.p., 2006. Web. 3 Apr. 2016. <https://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2006_summary_of_findings.pdf>.

“Survey: Teens Not Getting Enough Sleep.” Consumer Affairs. N.p., 28 Mar. 2006. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/03/sleep_teens.html>.

Wheaton, Anne G., Gabrielle A. Ferro, and Janet B. Croft. “School Start Times For Middle School And High School Students — United States, 2011–2012 School year. (Cover Story).” MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report 64.30 (2015): 809–813. Academic Search Premier. Web 3 April. 2016.

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