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Sleepy Students: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation Caused by an Early School Start Time

Sleep deprivation causes more issues in youth than you think.

According to livescience.com, the average start time for middle and high school classes in the United States is eight AM (Rettner NP). But is this an effective way to teach the youth of America? Numerous studies show that students do better overall in school when their classes start later. Although there are many different reasons why this should be implemented, the most prominent is sleep. Students experience numerous benefits just from an extra thirty minutes to an hour of sleep. Because of the benefits it causes and health concerns it prevents, middle and high schools should implement a later start time for classes to help kids excel further in their education by allowing more sleep.

Students need more sleep than they’re getting right now for a number of different reasons. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended amount of sleep for middle and high school age students is eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep per night (Richmond NP). With everything that students have to get done once they get out of school, such as homework, chores, and work, there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done and get the recommended amount of sleep. Kids that are the middle school to high school age range are experiencing a crucial time as they are still developing mentally, physically, and emotionally (Rettner NP). Not getting enough sleep disrupts this. Lack of sleep also causes a variety of other issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Pediatrics’ Group reports that sleep deprivation has been directly linked to higher rates of obesity and motor vehicle accidents (Richmond NP). When drowsy teens drive, they are reported to have slowed reaction times and a general hard time paying attention to the road (Morgan NP). Daniel S. Lewin, PhD, DABSM, CBSM, and associate director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Health System, stated that “when [teenagers] do not sleep on a regular schedule…there can be serious short and long-term effects on health, [including] cardiometabolic health, mental health, safety, and learning (Lewin NP). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has also reported that sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety, irritability, lack of motivation, and other symptoms of depression (Morgan NP). Studies have also shown that lack of sleep can “alter hormone levels and [put] additional stress on the body” and also cause diabetes (Morgan NP). In addition to all the negative effects that come from not getting enough rest, it is difficult for students of this age group to go to bed early to accommodate for the early school start time. According to theatlantic.com, research shows that the internal clocks, the “circadian rhythms that control a human’s responses to stimuli and determine sleep patterns, operate differently than those of other age groups (Richmond NP). This means that it’s increasingly more difficult for students of this age range to go to bed earlier than it is for other age ranges (Richmond NP). A later start time makes sense as it decreases the likelihood of these negative health effects and is more natural to students.

In addition to the need for students to get more sleep, mental and educational benefits can be expected from implementing a later school start time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has reported that students lacking sleep are more likely to experience reduced concentration, which create attention deficits, slowed reaction times, increased distractibility, impaired decision-making skills, and are more likely to become forgetful (Morgan NP). Not only would the student’s ability to get more sleep increase focus in the classroom, the students would be significantly more likely to learn and retain more information taught in the school systems. This would cause grades to increase along with standardized testing scores, higher rates of graduation, and an increasing number of students advancing from high school to college. Remember, this is all from an extra thirty minutes to an hour of sleep a day. Students experience significant mental benefits with more sleep added to their daily routines. As stated early, it has been proven by researchers that sleep deprivation can cause symptoms of depression (Morgan NP). These devasting effects can be cured with more sleep. By doing this, students experience fewer mood changes, an overall happier mood, and essentially a better quality of life (Morgan NP). Basically, students are overall happier and healthier when given the opportunity to get an extra thirty minutes to an hour of sleep.

Many studies have been constructed and performed to try to determine the effects of a later school start time on students. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement performed a study sought to answer the question of whether there was a correlation between later school start times and academic performance in high school students (Richmond NP). According to theatlantic.com, after analyzing data from over 9,000 students from eight different high schools in Minnesota, Colorado, and Wyoming, the study showed that later school start times “resulted in a boost in attendance, test scores, and grades in math, English, science, and social studies,” as well as “[decreases] in tardiness, substance abuse, and symptoms of depression” (Richmond NP). Even though this data is from high school students, middle school students are more likely to experience this as they are younger and are developing at a faster rate than most high schoolers. Another study done by Mary Carskadon, Brown University researcher, followed 10th grade high school students who were just switched to a 7:20 AM. start time (Richmond NP). Even though this was about an hour earlier than their previous schedule the year before, most students went to bed at about the same time as they did the previous year (Richmond NP). Because the students were required to be functional during time that was contrary to their “internal clocks,” it was reported that a little under half of the students averaged at getting only seven hours of sleep and students were close to being considered to be “pathologically sleepy” (Richmond NP). According to theatlantic.com, because of the evidence collected, this study became a landmark study in 1998 of adolescent sleeping habits (Richmond NP). A study was also conducted by Deborah A. Temkin PhD to examine sleep habits in middle school students and school start times (Lewin NP). After examining surveys taken by numerous students from 11 different schools with a variety of start times, it was concluded by Temkin and her colleagues that students with later school times were more likely to report being wide awake as opposed to the students with the early start time (Temkin NP). The students with the earlier start school start times were also determined to be more likely to reports struggling with daytime drowsiness (Temkin NP). When these studies and evidence is taken into account, people begin to wonder why we still implement early start times, when it has been proven on multiple accounts that it is harmful to students.

While it is more productive and ethical to have schools start at a later time, many issues and concerns have been brought up. One of the most popular arguments is the possible interference with extracurricular activities, work, and other activities performed outside of school. According to theatlantic.com, many parents, administrators, and even students are concerned that later school times will cut into or push back time to do other activities outside of school that need to be completed (Richmond NP). While this can be classified as a relatively pressing argument, the health of the student must always comes first, and sleep deprivation risks that. One of the most inaccurate social norms pertaining to this issue is that adolescent sleep deprivation is not a serious health issue. As stated before, this conclusion is wrong as it is becoming an epidemic in middle and high schoolers in the United States. Parents also make the argument that they need their middle school and high school age children to get out of school early so they can watch their younger siblings (Richmond NP). While this is commonly used in American households, if the adolescent is ill from something attributed to sleep deprivation, is it really worth it? Another common argument is one that pertains to public transportation. According to sleepingresources.com, “many school districts use the same buses for elementary school students as they do for high school students (Morgan NP). Pushing back school start times would affect this schedule, forcing school districts to either delay elementary school start times as well or hire more bus drivers (Morgan NP). This argument can also be countered in an effective way. Studies show that increased standardize testing scores are a common result of a later school start time (Lewin NP). Schools get more funding when their average student achievement on standardized tests increases. This extra funding can be put to use in hiring additional bus drivers. Not only is this potential problem avoidable by the extra funding, a student’s health should come first.

In conclusion, middle and high schools should implement a later start time so that students can get more needed sleep and be more functional in classes. Doing this helps counter the growing epidemic of sleep deprivation and the health problems associated with it. Benefits can also result from students being allowed thirty minutes to an extra hour of sleep. Later school start times in middle and high schools is a necessary change that must be made, for the good of adolescent students. In the words of Terra Ziporyn Snider, “We have to convince schools systems this has to happen for the health of the kids. It’s not a negotiable school budget item – it’s an absolute requirement.”


Works Cited:

Lewin, Daniel S. “Middle Schoolers Have Improved Sleep Habits with Later School Start Times.” Healio, SLACK Incorporated, 25 Apr. 2018, www.healio.com/pediatrics/school-health/news/online/{6b967f84-a1d0-43c6-91fc-f386112a5aec}/middle-schoolers-have-improved-sleep-habits-with-later-school-start-times.

Morgan, Leigh A. “Pros and Cons of Later School Start Times.” Sleeping Resources, sleepingresources.com/pros-and-cons-of-later-school-start-times/.

Rettner, Rachael. “School Start Times in U.S. States: Full List.” LiveScience, Purch, 6 Aug. 2015, www.livescience.com/51777-school-start-times-states.html.

Richmond, Emily. “Why School Should Start Later in the Morning.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 17 Aug. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/why-school-should-start-later/401489/.

Temkin, Deborah A., et al. “Later Start, Longer Sleep: Implications of Middle School Start Times.” Freshwater Biology, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 1 May 2018, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/josh.12622.


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Peyton Morris
Peyton Morris

College students writing about whatever I can think of, a few of my stories are college essays so that's why they sound kind of professional. Once Upon a Time lover - obviously.

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Sleepy Students: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation Caused by an Early School Start Time
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