By Eliza McKissick
In recent years, there has been great debate over the start time of schools. Many are advocating for a later start time in all schools— elementary, middle, and high school. The main argument is that currently, with schools starting at 8:00 am, adolescents are unable to get the proper amount of sleep.
Doctors at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital recommend that kids get between 9 and 9 1/2 hours of sleep. I questioned students at Arlington High School about their sleep habits and only 4.5% of surveyed students receive more than 8 hours of sleep on a typical school night. This statistic is concerning, but ultimately expected. The early start time of schools coupled with biological changes result in teens running on a later sleep-wake cycles.
An experiment conducted by Dr. Mary A. Carskadon of Brown University found that as children go through puberty, their brains begin producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin on a delayed schedule, making it difficult for them to feel tired before 11 p.m. In order for teenagers to get the proper amount of sleep, they should be just waking up around 8 a.m. if they went to bed around 11 p.m.; this, however, is impossible when school starts at 8 a.m. (Carskadon et al., 1998). If school were to start even an hour later, teens would be able to get sufficient sleep without the risk of being late to school.
Many adolescents use the weekends to catch up on lost sleep: 73.2% of surveyed AHS students report getting over 8 hours of sleep on the weekends. This compared to the 4.5% that get regularly get that much sleep may seem good, but in fact, this great disparity can be detrimental to teens. When the sleep schedule is so irregular, the quality of sleep is compromised, and ultimately students end up feeling more drowsy than they would if they got the same amount of sleep every night. If school were to start later, teens would be more likely to receive the same amount of sleep on school nights as they would on the weekends, and overall would feel less tired throughout the day.
Not receiving sufficient amounts of sleep has the potential to become a serious problem. Chronic sleep loss among teenagers has been associated with poor school performance and a higher risk for depressive symptoms, obesity, cardiovascular problems, risk-taking behaviors and athletic injuries. Sleep deprivation impairs their ability to be alert, pay attention, solve problems, cope with stress and retain information. Essentially, students would be more productive, more ready to learn, if they were able to get enough sleep.
One argument against pushing back the start time of schools is that by doing so, teens would start their homework later, fall asleep later and then have to wake up even later; therefore a delayed start would do nothing for their sleep schedule. However, many surveyed AHS students admitted that homework isn’t usually what keeps them up at night. Possibly it’s teens’ later sleep-wake cycle that makes it feel unnatural to fall asleep before 11 p.m. It is my position that if school were to start an hour later (9:00 a.m.) and end an hour later (3:30 p.m.), teenagers would complete their homework in plenty of time to go to bed at 11:00 p.m. and receive a full 9- 91/2 hours of sleep.
I believe the issue of adolescents receiving the proper amount of sleep is reason enough to justify a later start time for schools. Yes, obstacles would be likely to arise if Arlington were to shift to a 9:00-3:30 school day; sports practices and other school sponsored events would have to be reorganized, getting students to and from school may be more difficult, and students may slip into the habit of going to bed at midnight, rather than 11:00. However, to me, the biological tendencies of teens sleep schedules coupled with the overwhelming majority of AHS students receiving insufficient amounts of sleep suggest that some action, some reform, needs to be taken. Delaying the start time of Arlington Public Schools may just be that needed step.