Opinion: Teenagers need more sleep
January 18, 2017
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Why am I always tired? In fact, why are all my friends always tired? This is because Wayland schools make me get up early and drag myself to class. Don’t they know that students my age need more sleep because we are growing? Because I don’t get enough sleep, I wake up miserable every morning. When I hear my alarm go off, I pray that it’s just a nightmare. I go to school and try to look like I’m not still dreaming. By third block I could just collapse. High school should start later in the morning. I am positive that this would change kids’ academic lives as well as their lives in general. I know it would change mine.
High school kids need more sleep. According to a poll from the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended “amount” sleep for teens, ages 14 to 17, is 8 to 10 hours per night. But most kids are not getting those recommended hours of sleep. Research shows that only 1 out of 10 students gets the 8 to 10 hours of sleep recommended. Starting later would definitely give teenagers a bigger boost of energy and motivation. Teens that get the right amount of sleep get better grades. Pediatrician Judith Owens, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents” tells Scientific American, that kids with the right amount of sleep do better on standardized test scores and get better grades. Furthermore, adolescence is a critical period for brain development, and we cannot make good choices about reasoning, problem solving or good judgment if we do not have enough sleep.
Lack of sleep could lead to serious health problems. Owens also states that adolescents who get the right amount of sleep, have a reduced risk of being overweight. Getting enough sleep will also reduce the risk of depression. Studies at “L.A. Unified School District” show that with each lost hour of sleep there was a 38% increase in feeling hopeless or sad, and a 58% increase in teen suicide attempts.
Wayland community members are beginning to ride this wave. Kim Reichelt gave a presentation at the Wayland Town Building to parents and Superintendent Paul Stein about the consequences of not getting enough sleep and why school start times should start later. I was attentively listening, and I realized what a large group of high school students are struggling because they are not getting enough sleep, just like me. According to Reichelt, statistics show that 73% of students sleep less than 8 hours per night, meaning that the majority of high school students are barely getting the minimum recommended hours of sleep each night.
Reichelt explained why teenagers like us can’t fall asleep right away. “In adolescence there is a natural, biological shift in sleep patterns that delays sleep onset by about two hours, making sleep before 11 p.m. difficult,” Reichelt said.
Why should teenagers force their bodies to wake up early when their bodies are begging to sleep? Not allowing teenagers in Wayland to get the right amount of sleep is cruel.
“Those last hours of sleep are REM sleep, and they are critical for learning and memory, and they are the ones these students are chronically missing,” Reichelt said. This clearly is a problem.
Getting enough sleep will also reduce the risk of automobile accidents. If our natural sleep cycle is telling us to still be asleep early in the morning, how are we going to be focused on the road? Reichelt told the group that research has consistently found a decline in car crashes after school times have been moved; a study at the University of Minnesota showed a decline in car crash rates by 65%-70% in 2014. Most teenagers wake up early to drive to school, but how are they going to be in complete control if they are still thinking about sleep? Teens who don’t get enough sleep could easily lose focus on the road, which could lead to an accident. We are putting our lives on the line when we drive to school early in the morning and aren’t fully awake.
There are many common misconceptions about sleep. For example, some say “If school starts later, they’ll just stay up later.” Others say, “Teens can make up lost sleep by sleeping late on weekends,” or “Teens would go to sleep earlier if their parents just made them do it” or “an hour or an hour and a half will not make a difference.” These are lies. Research clearly shows us that adolescents’ sleep cycles change when they hit puberty, and our melatonin is released around 11 p.m, not when school administrators decide.
Yes, starting school later in the morning would mean that sports practices would start later in the afternoon. There would also be an increased busing cost, and schedule changes would have to be made for before and after school care. But what we shouldn’t compromise is our sleep.
Sleep is not only beneficial, but vital. I’m tired of hearing excuses. Do teenagers need more sleep? The answer is yes and it’s time we take action.