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Sleep Delay or School Delay?

High school students are notorious for their morning sleepiness. Enter any high school in the morning and you will see figurative zombies walking around clutching sugary, caffeinated drinks. Across the country, energy drinks and coffee cups abound in first, second, and third periods. 

This tiredness is often characterized as a side effect of teenagers' unwillingness to go to bed on time. There is more to the story, however. Teenagers are biologically driven to stay up later and want to sleep in longer, leading to tiredness for early morning lessons.

According to a Better Health Channel publication from 2018, The recommended amount of time for teenagers is between 8 and 10 hours per night, which is higher than the recommended for children and adults. Despite this, most teenagers only sleep for between 6.5-7.5 hours per night.

This describes the effect but not the cause. Why are students neglecting their sleep? Are they prioritizing something over their health? It turns out the answer is rooted in biology. 

From the American Psychological Association, two processes dominate the need for sleep: the homeostatic drive for sleep and the circadian rhythm. The homeostatic drive for sleep is what makes a person feel progressively more tired throughout the day. This process is less strong in teenagers, leading to a desire to stay up.

The second process, the circadian rhythm, is how the body decides when to go to sleep. The circadian rhythm shifts to later at night in adolescents, combining with the homeostatic drive for sleep to give teens a strong desire to stay awake.

With these processes in mind, the picture of early morning classrooms full of sleep-deprived teens suddenly makes sense. It begs the question, why do schools begin so early? 

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of delaying start times, even if it is by a very small amount. In a National Library of Medicine study, when schools delayed their starts by times as small as a half hour, it was associated with a large increase in sleep duration. This led to improved attendance, fewer tardies, better grades, and fewer car crashes.

This information should make the CSGK administration, as well as any other school, consider moving the start time back. Hackett already starts fairly early, moving it back half an hour could prove very beneficial for student's wellbeing, physical and mental.


At the very least, it may be beneficial to schedule assemblies in the morning, rather than the middle of the day, as to reserve the higher-thinking hours of the afternoon for actual class time. 


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