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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Late start at schools would improve student success

    It was a dark time in my life. I’m not speaking figuratively — it was literally dark outside as I groggily fought open heavy eyelids at 5:50 a.m. every single day of high school.

    I was up before the sun as I skipped breakfast, swung my bag over my shoulder, and wearily stepped out the door. After four years of proof that I am not a morning person, college has given me the opportunity to create class schedules that allow me to get a sufficient amount of rest while still accomplishing all that I want to.

    Many high school students across the nation, however, must wake up before dawn to arrive at school before a prompt 7:30 a.m. (or earlier) start time. Despite a recommended 9.25 hours of sleep for teenagers per night, only 15 percent of teens sleep for 8.5 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

    Late-night study sessions combined with early start times is a recipe for sleep deprivation that leads to both mental and physical health risks. State legislatures around the country should take note of these dangers and consider implementing laws to let students catch a few extra “Zs.”

    All Cristina Sevin wants for her two sleep-deprived teenagers is to have one more hour of sleep, meaning that their Maryland school would begin at 8:18 a.m. rather than 7:17 a.m., according to National Public Radio. Sevin has joined a grassroots campaign that pushes for later high school start times and her name is on a national petition, initiated by the coalition Start School Later, that aims to prevent high schools from beginning before 8 a.m.

    This is a topic that high school students here in Tucson can easily relate to.

    The first class period of the day begins at 8:05 a.m. for students attending Tucson High Magnet School. While not quite as early as some other schools, many THMS students say that they feel the negative effects of having to wake up early.

    Joelle Lopez, a senior at THMS, said that on hectic nights she rarely falls asleep before 2 a.m. and that having to wake up at 6:30 a.m. is a struggle. On difficult nights such as these, Lopez is getting less than half of the recommended sleep time. “I would rather come to school later and stay later than have to get up super early. I can’t wake up and sometimes I don’t wake up and miss class,” Lopez said.

    According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescents’ biological sleep patterns make it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Even if every high school student fell asleep exactly at 11 p.m. on the dot — for many teens balancing a schedule of homework, extracurricular activities, jobs and sports, this wouldn’t be feasible — they would probably only get between 7 or 8 hours of sleep to wake up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. to get to school on time.

    This is a best case scenario, and these students still wouldn’t be reaching their recommended hours of sleep. Throw in extra study time for that physics final, preparing for a sibling’s birthday party, eating dinner with the family and before they know it, it’s 1:30 a.m. Teens shouldn’t have to sacrifice their health in order to meet academic demands and maintain other commitments.

    Lack of sleep is harmful in so many ways. This basic human function, as important as oxygen, food and water, is crucial.

    Sleep deficiency hinders one’s learning ability, concentration and memory while increasing irritability, acne and susceptibility to sickness, the National Sleep Foundation states.

    Cecily Leedy, a THMS junior, said if she wants to get to school on time, she must wake up at 5:30 a.m., but that she doesn’t get to go to bed until around midnight if she has extracurricular activities that day.

    “If you have to do extracurricular activities and stuff like that they usually take time after school, and then you don’t get enough homework done or you don’t get to go to bed at a reasonable time, and then you have to wake up super early to get here at 8 and that usually doesn’t work out, so then you are missing class. It doesn’t work out very well,” Leedy said. “If teachers want to have successful students … something needs to change.”

    While sleep will always be important for teenagers, high school start times can be changed. Not only would another hour of sleep improve the well-being of these tired teens, but it would increase safety for everybody else by cutting down on the number of drowsy teen drivers from roads.

    Lopez said she is responsible for driving herself to school and spoke about how a lack of sleep affects her driving habits.
    “I feel pretty drowsy and tired … like I have to rush more so I kind of speed through everything, especially downtown.”

    The National Sleep Foundation states that if the brain needs sleep, it will find a way to get some, whether you expect it or not. With more than 100,000 car accidents a year caused by drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel, the issue is clearly serious. Steering wheels serve as pillows for teens who are half asleep, and not to mention, these new drivers couldn’t have had their licenses for more than a couple of years, so they’re already a risk.

    If high schools aren’t careful, the phrase “the early bird gets the worm” will become “The grumpy, sleep-deprived, sick, overworked bird would have gotten the worm if it had gotten enough sleep. But since it didn’t, it couldn’t focus or remember where the worm was. So instead, it fell asleep while flying and crashed into other birds.”

    Shelby Thomas is a sophomore studying journalism and sociology. Follow her @shelbyalayne.

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