Changing School Starting Times: Better Sleep for Everyone

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Changing School Starting Times: Better Sleep for Everyone

Sleep and education are both very important to people everywhere, but today a dilemma occurs that has a significant amount of students fighting to maintain both. As adolescents enter and endure high school, their bodies begin to undergo changes that affect the way they sleep, needing longer sleep at later times of the night. The problem with this is that adolescents’ sleep needs clash with their need for education, because high school begins early in the morning. Understanding the sleep of elementary school children, as well, can bring a resolution to this problem, though. Younger children are much like early birds, showing signs of alertness in the early morning. If the school times of these two age groups were switched, many problems that exceed better sleeping will be solved. High school and elementary starting times should be switched in order for adolescents to improve in school, while being beneficial to elementary school children. Adolescents’ changing sleep schedule affects their performance in school. Many changes occur in the body during the adolescent years, which are the ages including high school students. There is biology behind all sleep including that of adolescents’, and studies show how they have changes in sleep patterns and changes in melatonin that make waking up in the morning dreadful and close to impossible for them. Mary Carskadon, a well-known doctor who specializes in sleep, did a study on the sleep of adolescents in 1980 which was redone and updated in 2004. She wrote on her experiment and it determines that adolescents require eight and one – half to nine and one – half hours of sleep each night (609). It was also proven that most adolescents undergo a sleep phase delay which means they will more likely have later falling asleep and waking up times. The typical time for adolescents to fall asleep is around eleven P.M. or later. When this change occurs, teens may feel wide awake at bedtime, even if they are exhausted. Eventually this leads to sleep deprivation in the many teens who have to wake up early for school, leaving them with less than the eight and one – half to nine and one – half hours of sleep that they need. The circadian rhythm and melatonin are both parts of the body that play a big role in sleeping. The circadian rhythm is the body’s clock that determines when a person is sleepy and when their body should be getting up. Melatonin works with the circadian rhythm and is a hormone that is released when the “body’s clock” tells the individual that it is time for sleep. Carskadon found that more mature adolescents had later circadian rhythm timing, based on melatonin secretions in saliva samples. What she discovered shows that “melatonin secretion occurs at a later time in adolescents as they mature; thus, it is difficult for them to go to sleep earlier at night. Melatonin secretion also turns off later in the morning, making it harder to wake up early” (610). This was not only seen in North American adolescents, but also found in teens in South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe, determining that there is a biological occurrence for a change in sleep at this age. William Dement, a U.S. sleep doctor and researcher, also known as the “father of sleep”, states in his book, The Promise of Sleep, that “the effects of changing sleep patterns are compounded by the demands older students face in academics, extracurricular activities, social opportunities, after school jobs, and other obligations” (64). Sleep needs and deprivation in teens make it difficult for them to do everything they want and need, and when it comes to school, sleep is not a priority for teenagers, and it typically is not made one by parents or schools. The sleep deprivation in adolescents is largely caused by a conflict between the biological clocks and the schedules and demands of society; therefore, it makes sense to look at the school starting...
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