Adaptations Needed to Address Adolescents’ Circadian Rhythms
Sleep is the fuel that humans need to properly function. The amount of sleep people need is determined by their circadian rhythm, or biological clock. A teenager’s circadian rhythm differs from that found in an adult or younger child. While going through puberty, teenagers need more sleep than when they become adults. Researchers from the National Sleep Foundation have identified several changes in sleep patterns, sleep/wake systems, and circadian timing associated with puberty. In the last decade, a few high schools from around the world have changed to a later start time that would better suit the sleep cycles of their students. Studies by the National Sleep Foundation in the last five years have shown that schools with later start times better suit their student’s sleep cycles, decreased the dropout rate, and that the students are more alert and have better grades. All schools should change their start times to a later time period to better accommodate their students’ sleeping patterns, resulting in better performance in school.
Circadian rhythms are the body’s way of telling time, with the word circadian being derived from the Latin phrase “circa diem”, meaning “about a day”(Vitaterna 4). These cycles run on twenty-four hour clocks that do not necessarily correspond with any external influences. The importance of having a person’s circadian rhythms line up with the outside world relies on the fact that all physiological and behavioral functions occur on a rhythmic basis, and disruptions in rhythms lead to a variety of mental and physical disorders (Vitaterna 21). Many effects can be directly linked with disturbances in the sleep-wake pattern, which is put in disarray by the abnormal sleeping patterns of teens is high school (Science News 1). Teens need as much sleep as when they were preteens. Teens need between eight and a half hours and nine hours and fifteen minutes. Their sleep patterns undergo a phase delay, where the teen goes to sleep and wakes up later. Studies show that the typical high school student’s natural time to fall asleep is 11:00 pm or later (National 2). Some studies show that the circadian rhythm of teens is 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, but because of the delay, going to bed earlier as well as waking up earlier disrupts the teen’s circadian rhythm (National 2). When a person suffers from lack of sleep, it restricts the person’s abilities to function properly throughout the day because the body’s basic functions become impaired (Vitaterna 22). The problem of lack of sleep can also be associated with the rapid physical development of young teenagers (Weekly 6). Their bodies are telling them to get rest, but their schoolwork and social activities are preventing that. A study in Israel showed that teenagers starting school at 7:00 am were in distress (Weekly7). They complained of fatigue, fights with parents, late arrivals, and more sleeping in class. As a result of the study, school start time in Israel was delayed to 8:00 am. The change has been highly popular with students, parents, and school faculty (Weekly7).
The Minneapolis school district changed their high school start time from 7:15 am to 8:40 am in 1996 (Wahlstrom 2). They were one of the first high schools in the nation to change their starting time based on sleep deprivation (Lawton 12). Many parents and administrators feared that the later start time would provide an excuse for students to stay up later on school nights. The data that was recorded during the testing of the new start time’s effects showed that this did not happen. Students continued to go to bed at the same time, which was around 11:00 pm. This finding made sense from a biological perspective, as it is likely that nighttime circadian rhythms were contributing to the feelings of sleepiness around 11:00 pm, regardless of the time the students woke up in the morning (Wahlstrom...
Bibliography: “Adolescent sleep needs and patterns.” The National Sleep Foundation 2000 (27 October 2005) www.sleepfoundation.org.
“Does the school bell ring too soon? – The amount of sleep high school students receive in relation to school-starting times.” Weekly Reader (19 October 2005)
Lawton, Millicent. “For whom the school bell tolls – school schedules tailored to students’ sleep needs.” American Association of School Administrators on LookSmart (19 October 2005)
"Sleepy teens haven 't got circadian rhythm". Science News. July 2, 2005. FindArticles.com. 02 Jun. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_168/ai_n14859022
Vitaterna, Martha Hotz, Joseph S. Takahashi, and Fred W. Turek. "Overview of Circadian Rhythms." Alcohol Research & Health Spring, 2001
Wahlstrom, Kyla. “Changing times: Findings from the first longitudinal study of later high school start times.” National Association of Secondary School Principals on LookSmart (19 October 2005)
Wolfson, Amy R. “A survey of factors influencing high school start times.” National Association of Secondary School Principals on LookSmart (19 October 2005)
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