Early Start Leads to Poor Focus For Sleep Deprived Teens


By C.J. LaDuke

Every day at 7:55 AM, hordes of half-awake Tam students trudge toward their 1st period classes like zombies. “Everyone is usually half asleep at least until the break after 1st period,” junior Walter Rivas said. These early morning classes are notorious for exhausted, sleeping and unfocused students devoid of attention or any desire to learn.

In addition to the early wake up time, homework, extracurricular activities, jobs and sports can take up a lot of time after school. This can prevent students from getting to bed at a reasonable time, shortening their sleep even more. “Because of work and homework, it is often hard to get to bed at a reasonable hour,” junior Natalie Moghadasian said. “I’m usually exhausted on school mornings.”

We have grown so accustomed to this sleepy trend that we fail to realize that this could be a more serious problem. Studies show that teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep to function at their best, and with such early school starting times, these 9 to 10 hours can be very hard to get.

America is a highly sleep-deprived society. A study done by the Boston College reported that the United States has the highest number of sleep-deprived students compared to other countries. On top of that, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than a third of U.S. citizens sleep less than seven hours a night, which is less than what the body needs. The developing brain of a teenager needs more sleep than an adult and is often not able to get it. In order to fit all of school’s instruction time into the day, most schools start around 8:00 AM, or sometimes even earlier, forcing students to get up before 7:00 AM. “If school started even just an hour later it would make a big difference,” sophomore Phoebe Walker said. “Getting to school by 8:00 AM every day can be stressful.”

Some schools have noticed positive changes as a result of later class times. The Minneapolis School District changed its start time from 7:20 to 8:40 giving its 12,000 high school students an extra hour and twenty minutes each morning. Educational researcher Kyla Wahlstrom from the University of Minnesota commented on the noticeable change in these students’ behavior. “Students reported less depression when there was a later starting time, and teachers reported that students were more alert and ready for learning,” Wahlstrom said. They also noticed a decrease in dropouts.

One could argue that if students got to bed earlier, this wouldn’t an issue. While this is true, there are scientific reasons why teens stay up later. The hormone melatonin induces sleep in human beings. For adults, melatonin releases around 10:00 PM, however it doesn’t release in a teenage body until around 1:00 AM, which explains why many teens won’t feel tired until late at night, despite their poor sleeping schedule.

In the teenage years, a period critical for brain development, this sleep debt due to early morning classes cannot not be ignored. Simply by making school start and end a little later would have a positive impact on students and allow them to excel even further with their studies. The human body and brain needs a certain amount of sleep every night and school should not limit that.