You probably know from experience that starting your day in a half-asleep, ‘fog’ is not only uncomfortable but also inefficient. Yet, we ask our High School students to do this on a consistent basis! With most High Schools starting at 7:30-8am, it seems highly unlikely that teens are getting sufficient amounts of sleep. If the business world doesn’t even begin till 9, why should we force our sleep-hungry teens to start earlier-especially at such a critical age in development?
Do the Math-it doesn’t add up!
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens should be sleeping between 8 ½ and 9 ¼ hours a night. If High School starts at 7:30, most teens would normally wake up around 6:30am to account for travel time, getting ready, eating, etc. This means teens would have to go to sleep at 9:30 pm in order to get a full nights rest! From experience, I can say most teens don’t go to bed that early! More likely, they are going to sleep around 11:00-11:30ish and are waking up deprived of sleep by an hour or so. Sure, you can give your child a jolt in the morning with some coffee, but do you want to encourage caffeine intake at such a young age?
Sleepy teens and its impact on academics
Sleep deprived teens may be at a serious academic disadvantage. According to Fred Danner, a researcher at the University of Kentucky, hours of sleep were significantly positively associated with GPA and level of motivation. He even finds that lack of sleep in adolescence is also associated with ADHD and emotional disturbance.
This is not a surprise for those who experience sleep deprivation on a regular basis. Lack of sleep can almost make you feel like you’re in a ‘haze’, undoubtedly affecting your ability to learn. Ask any teacher who teaches first period-they’ll tell you that many of their students are half-awake and inattentive!
What can we do about this?
One obvious solution would be to start school later. A few districts in Minnesota did just that, changing their start time from 7:30 to 8:30am! The effects have been tremendous. Results from 3 years worth of data show improved attendance and student behavior, less tardiness, and increased alertness amongst other things. You can read more about their wonderful results here.
In most cases, changing the start time for your school may not be feasible. One alternative solution would be to teach less-challenging classes in the beginning of the day and more difficult courses towards the end. This will ensure that students are more alert for the essential classes. If you think about it, would you rather your child be sleepy and inattentive in math class or gym? Although you wouldn’t want either, I think its safe to say that math is a more critical academic skill.
As you can see, sleep-deprivation is a serious issue for high schoolers. Policy makers and education officials should think long and hard about delaying High School start times. How does your child or student handle the early start time? Let me know in the comments section below!