The Early Bird Gets Sleep Deprived

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“It’s way too early to be up right now,” I think, every single morning. 7:50 is too early to start school; it’s 40 minutes earlier than the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended start time of 8:30 a.m.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), teenagers should get nine hours or more of sleep every night. Due to a change in hormones caused by puberty, our natural “sleep cycle” is set so we are not sleepy prior to 11 p.m. It is easy math to figure out that, if the average student goes to bed right when  they begin to feel tired (approximately 11 p.m.) and then gets up at 6:45 am to ensure optimal time to get ready for school (to dress, brush teeth, eat breakfast, etc.) that adds up to seven hours and 45 minutes. In other words they would have a sleep deficit of one hour and 15 minutes every night.

While one and a quarter hours may not seem like a lot, that is longer than an average class period at school-and we all know that feels like a lifetime. This adds up to over 6 hours per school week, nearly an entire night’s worth of sleep.

The consequences of sleep deprivation are well known. According to both the Nationwide Children’s and the NSF, lack of sleep can cause problem for students’ academic performances. Inadequate sleep results in lower grades and limits the ability to concentrate during school. Furthermore, tired students are more likely to fall asleep during class and not perform as well as they could.

Sleep deprivation can be physically dangerous, too. As more and more sophomores, juniors, and seniors get their driver’s licenses, there is a higher risk of “driving drowsy.” According to the NSF, lack of sleep makes it more difficult to operate machinery, causing as many as “100,000 crashes each year.” Driving sleep deprived makes you as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, an illegal blood alcohol concentration level for drivers in California.

Teenagers are moody enough as it is, but lack of sleep can cause students and teens to become subject to more frequent and severe mood swings. It makes it easier to become frustrated, upset, or even aggressive, contributing to the stress we are already loaded down with.

Tired teenagers are more likely to turn to unhealthy substances to make up for their fatigue, anything from sweets and fried foods or drugs and alcohol.

So why, if there seem to be so many consequences due to lack of sleep, does school start so early?

There have been many objections to starting school earlier, from parents, teachers, and students.

One of these objections is that, if school started later, then we would end later, therefore pushing back sporting events and practices. However, this makes one wonder about how schools like Jesuit and St. Francis manage to have very successful sports programs.

Jesuit starts the average school day at 8:15 a.m. (on Wednesdays and Fridays, they start at 9:45) and end at 3 p.m., yet their soccer team is ranked No. 3 in the state. Their later start and end time has not impaired their sports, and may have contributed to its success.

Well rested athletes are more willing to participate in practice and therefore more likely to be a valuable player on the field.

Another objection is that adults that have to work will not be able to get their children to school in the morning. However, most adults do not end work by 2:50 pm, meaning that their children have to find a different way home. If parents are not driving their teenagers’ home after school, they can find a way to school in the morning.

A solution to this problem would be to carpool. Because Rio is a neighborhood school, many people live close to each other. This not only allows parents that need to get to work the time to do that if school were to start later, but also is better for the environment and for traffic because there will be fewer cars on the road.

An accusation to the little amount of time students’ sleep is often placed on the amount of homework given by teachers. Because they have more homework, they are going to bed later.

While this may be true, the argument made that students should “just take easier classes” is invalid if you want to get into a “good” college.

Advanced Placement classes are necessary if one wants to get into a top ranked school. And with these hard classes, comes hard work.

If students are going to bed later because of homework, wouldn’t it be better to have more hours of sleep in the morning?

If the average Raider goes to bed at 11:00 pm, and got up at 7:25 am to ensure optimal time to get ready for school, and if Rio put the recommended school start time of 8:30 into place, he or she would have a sleep deficit of 35 minutes. This cuts the total amount of loss of sleep per school week in half.

Even a push back of a mere 30 minutes would make a large dent in the amount of time spent asleep. That measly half an hour could improve test scores and sports teams performance.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.” That is excellent advice that we should sleep on.

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