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With teenagers' busy schedules today, the first activity to give way is usually sleep. However, the sleep deficit of teenagers today is hampering high school students' achievement. To accommodate for teens' sleep needs, high schools should start later in the day than they do now (based on review of several newspaper articles, it appears that most schools starting times range from 7:00-8:30 a.m.). This action would better satisfy the sleep needs of teenagers, improve their academic performance, be beneficial for families of elementary school students, and increase safety.
Delaying the high school schedule, even if only by half an hour, would be beneficial to the sleep needs of teenagers. Studies have shown that after puberty, teenagers require more sleep (about 9.5hrs) but get less sleep (about 7.5hrs). (1) Mary Carskadon of Brown University performed an elaborate scientific study on the sleeping patterns of adolescents. (2) Her research, later verified by other studies, found that not only do teenagers need more sleep, their sleep patterns shift. (3) After puberty, teens' circadian rhythms shift into a delayed phase. Indicators of the circadian rhythms other than the sleep-wake cycle , such as temperature , hormone secretion , and melatonin level , all start and end later in the day than when they had prior to puberty. This is why teenagers would do better to go to bed later and to wake up later. Of course, it would be best for them to use the extra time to get more sleep, but it would be inevitable that several students would just push back their bed time and wake up later. Even if the students don't take advantage of the extra sleeping time opportunity, delaying the schedule would still better fit their needs.
Delaying the starting time for high schools would improve the academic performance of students. They would be more in tune with what is going on in class and would be ripe for learning later in the day. With increased alertness during class, academic performance is bound to improve. Schools so far who have adjusted their schedule, such as Edina High, Minnesota, and Pike County, Kentucky, have had positive results, with improved grades and attitudes. (4) After all, the purpose of schools is to educate students, and to give them a chance to learn. Taking in new information later in the day is conducive to the students actually learning the material.
If high schools switched starting times with elementary schools, as is one of the options, it would actually improve the learning of elementary students as well. Unlike teenagers, younger children tend to learn better earlier in the morning. (5) Some working parents of elementary school students complain that this would cause their children to be home earlier without supervision. However, most working parents of elementary school students probably are still at work when their children get out of school with the current schedule anyway. There are many after school day care programs available. Some elementary school families struggle with the current schedule as parents need to leave for work before school currently starts for their children. Changing the schedule would minimize this dilemma. Having schedule difficulties for just after school should be better than trying to make arrangements for both before and after school. Therefore, many families of younger students would also benefit.
This change could improve safety as well. Most high school students get off of school with several hours before their parents arrive home from work. Police reports show that it is between the time that these teens get out of school and when parents get off of work that teen crime rates are highest. (6) High school students, too old to need a day care provider, would have less time unsupervised, providing less opportunities for trouble. An additional safety consideration is that many sleepy students drive themselves to school in the morning. These teens would be more alert and able to drive in the morning if school started later, resulting in fewer accidents on the road. The community's safety would improve as a result of the change in high school schedules.
Tiredness is often still considered today a sign of laziness. However, as America's National sleep debt is continuing to rapidly increase, people are finally becoming more aware of this serious dilemma. Teenage years are extremely important in development. Teenage students deserve the right to learn in an optimum environment. Delaying the high school schedule by an hour would be better for students' learning as well as have many other beneficial side effects. Perhaps before or after teenage years, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."(7) However, for teens today, a better slogan might be, "Wake up later and your grades will be greater!"
(1) Gordon, Jo. "Let sleeping teens lie." The Fairfax Journal. Feb. 15, 1998, p. A4.
(2) Carskadon, M.A.; Wolfson, A.R.; Acebo, C.; Tzischinsky, O.; and Seifer, R. "Adolescent sleep patterns, circadian timing, and sleepiness at a transition to early school days." Sleep Research Laboratory, E.P. Bradley Hospital, E. Providence, RI 02915, USA.(Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/htbin-ost/Entrez/query?uid=9871949&form=6&db=m&Dopt=b)
(3) Johnson, Kevin V. "Teen-agers are wired to stay up, wake later." USA Today. June 24, 1998, p. 4D.
(4) Johnson, Kevin V. "Schools slow to wake up to teens' need to sleep in." USA Today. June 24, 1998, p. 4D.
(5) Pickhardt, Hallie. "Panel airs schools' start time options." The Fairfax Journal. Dec. 2, 1998, p. A1.
(6) Gordon, Jo. "Let sleeping teens lie." The Fairfax Journal. Feb. 15, 1998, p. A4.
(7) Quote by Benjamin Franklin, from "Poor Richard's Almanac."[an error occurred while processing this directive]