10 Aug 2017

Should Class Start-Times Be Moved Up?

The United States has the highest number of students whose learning suffers from sleep.  As reported by the students’ teachers, 73% of students’ learning is negatively affected by a lack of sleep.  Lack of sleep impairs cognitive functioning, and with almost three-quarters of the nation’s students being hurt by sleep deprivation, we need to ask: should we move school start-times up?

Beyond healing and repairing the body, especially with the heart and blood vessels, sleep helps the brain form new pathways for new information.  These new pathways foster memory creation and allow information that was processed throughout the day to be consolidated for future recall.  The effects of not getting the recommended nine to ten hours of sleep a night for teenagers are present after only losing one to two hours of sleep; cognitive ability suffers as if you haven’t slept for a day or two.  The lack of sleep also leads to micro-sleep.  Micro-sleep is the instance in which you appear to be conscious and functioning, yet you cannot remember what you have done for the past few minutes.  For those who drive, you might know it as highway hypnosis, when you go on auto-pilot and may not remember driving from your house to the stop sign down the street.  Dr. Fitzpatrick, a sleep researcher from Northwestern University, describes not sleeping as if “[y]our brain is running on empty.”  Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to brain alterations that cause deficiencies in solving problems, negatively affect decision making, and create issues with controlling emotions.

With all of its downfalls, the lack of sleep is not inevitable and the effects are not irreversible.  Dr. Fitzpatrick explains that “[a]s long you haven’t gone into extreme sleep deprivation, if you go back to seven to nine hours per night, as long as there has been no permanent damage, you can probably restore the functionality of accumulating, processing and being able to recall memories.”  Getting nine to ten hours of sleep a night, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding large meals within an hour of going to bed, and not using computers, tablets, or smart-phones at night can help you get back into the sleeping groove.

Moving school times up would also help with the ever-growing problem of sleep deprivation.  The American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for moving school start-times up to 8:30 am or later for middle school and high school students so they could get 8.5 hours a night.  As students age, they go to bed later and later, with most teenagers going to bed after 10:30pm.  Because of their late nights, teenagers need later start-times.  Younger students, who tend to go to bed and wake up earlier than teenagers, could start classes before older students.

Many high schools start before 7 am, and with students falling asleep as late as they do after an already long day, wouldn’t having a later start-time be beneficial?  What possible downsides do you think a later start-time could have?  Do you think the sleeping habits of students would change, or would they just stay up later, causing them to get the same amount of sleep in the end?  We’d love to know your thoughts, so comment below!

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