More Zzz’s for Teens, Please

Zoe Mosdell, Staff Writer

Across the country, high schoolers hear their alarms go off early in the morning, sometimes well before the sun even starts to rise. These teens then groggily wake up and get ready before forcing their bodies to school. They may not even start to feel awake until lunchtime.

For high schoolers, this is the seemingly endless cycle that repeats every weekday morning. We know that teenagers need at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night in order to function and grow properly. Unfortunately, high school’s early start times make a full night’s sleep seem like a luxury.

For the sake of teens’ health, Highland needs to push back start times for students. Teenagers would be able to function and feel much better with a full night’s rest. Forcing high schoolers to wake up when their bodies aren’t ready is unfair and harmful for a teen’s emotional, mental, and physical health.

In its article, “Sleep in Adolescents,” Nationwide Children said, “The average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between 7 and 7 ¼ hours. However, they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours.”

Our bodies have a sleep-wake system called the circadian rhythm. It’s basically an inner clock that tells our bodies when to go sleep and when to wake up. For teens, this rhythm tends to look different than other age ranges.

In an article titled “School Starts Too Early,” the CDC reports: “During puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in biological rhythms.”

However, schools’ early start time has disrupted adolescents’ natural sleep rhythm, making teens feel tired and unfocused the rest of the day. Their bodies are being forced to adapt to an unhealthy sleep cycle that can negatively affect their health.

For a developing teenager, the consequences of insufficient sleep are extremely harmful and unhealthy. Not getting enough sleep can cause increased feelings of tiredness, irritability, depression, anxiety, and can even affect weight. Teens with early high school start times are especially at risk for these symptoms.

Despite this evidence, school districts are concerned about the expenses of later start times.

“In some districts that have moved start times, teens have struggled to find after-school jobs and were no longer available after school to watch younger siblings,” Erin Einhorn wrote for the NBC in an article about pushing back school start times. “Other communities grappled with scheduling sports practices, especially in the early darkness of winter, and districts have had to come up with extra funds to adjust bus routes or provide childcare.”

If high schools push back start times, however, it will not only benefit the students but the school as well. Teenagers will feel better emotionally, mentally, and physically if they get the sleep their bodies need. They will also start doing better academically if their brains are rested and ready to learn and retain information.

“We have studied start time changes over a full year, noting changes to sleep, mood, health and academics in a high school that delayed start time by 45 minutes,” Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss wrote in her article about early high school start times, “We found that later start times lead to improved sleep, as well as reductions in tardiness and dramatic improvements to behavior problems.”

Pushing back start times will also boost the economy as well, providing greater returns that will outweigh the original costs.

In an economic analysis done by Rand Corporation on a study of later start times, the report states, “The study suggested that the benefits of later start times far outweigh the immediate costs. Even after just two years, the study projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m.”

While the school districts have valid concerns about pushing back high school start times, the benefits of a later start outweigh the negatives. Education and money are important, but the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of teenagers should be prioritized and put first.

The Coronavirus has had an extremely significant impact on all of us, and this year has taught us how to adapt and learn from our circumstances. We all know the dangers and severity of the virus, but a lack of sleep can arguably be more lethal to teenagers. Considering this, schools need to adapt to our new lives and change things for the greater good. Now is a better time than any to give students the sleep they desperately need and deserve.

If we are afraid of the dangers of COVID, why not the dangers of a lack of sleep?