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Does an Earlier Starting Time in Schools Really Benefit Teenage Students?

Essay by   •  June 9, 2011  •  Essay  •  830 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,694 Views

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Most students today struggle under the heavy load of countless extracurricular activities and lengthy homework assignments, all for a tiny opportunity to get accepted into the most exclusive colleges and eventually the competitive workforce. Starting school at the break of dawn does nothing but deter students from functioning at the best of their ability. In spite of multiple attempts by parents, educators, and students to adapt to schools' early starting times, the best remedy to this problem seems to be a later school day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, "later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined" ("A Look at the School Start Times Debate"). Teenagers are naturally inclined "to stay up later in the night and wake up later in the morning" ("Look"). School times that start first thing in the morning conflict with teenagers' intrinsic sleeping patterns, and lack of sleep adversely affects teenagers' health.

A 2006 national survey found that 28 percent of students fall asleep during class at least once weekly and that "only 20 percent of adolescents get the recommended nine hours of sleep on school nights" ("Survey: Teens Not Getting Enough Sleep"). Proponents of early starting times in schools say that adolescents' minds are most active in the early morning; actually, teenagers' brains actually do not become active until well after the school day has already started ("From A to Z"). In fact, teenagers' levels of melatonin, a sleep-producing hormone, do not abate until about eight in the morning (Bernard), leaving teenagers groggy as their school day begins.

Many teachers and school administrators say that all this evidence is highly anecdotal, but a Minneapolis school noticed evident benefits of making the school day work with the students' internal clocks after moving its starting time one hour later in 1996. Students' grades spiked, and teachers reported that "students were more alert, more attentive in class, less pressured and easier to motivate" (Dragseth).

Athletic coaches and club leaders often complain that because later school starting times means later school ending times, students will not have enough time to participate in after-school activities if school were to begin later in the morning. The solution for these people is compromise. Coaches can turn on lights that overlook an athletic field for late-afternoon practices or use indoor facilities if weather becomes a factor. As well, clubs can meet on weekends. Compromise is a small price to pay for the health of teenagers. Furthermore, tired student-athletes simply do not perform at the same level as they do when well rested. According to the National Sleep Foundation, research has shown that "sleep deprivation has a severe negative impact on coordination and endurance, so it makes sense that better rested student athletes would perform better" ("Eight Major Obstacles to Delaying High School Start Times").

The effects of sleep deprivation caused by early school starting times extend beyond the school campus. Facts presented by the Department of Health and Human Services state that vehicle crashes constitute 36 percent of all teenage deaths ("Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet"). In addition, a British survey found that "people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse [in driving tests] than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent" ("Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests"). Allowing inexperienced teenage drivers who are in a sleepy haze to drive in the early morning not only puts their own lives in danger but also puts others' lives in danger.

As a student who is taking one of the most demanding class loads offered at my school, I for one appreciate the therapeutic effects of a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, the time at which I have to awaken each morning does not permit me as much sleep as I feel is necessary for me to function properly. Parents and teachers are often quick to blame students' habits of procrastination as the reason for their inability to prioritize sleep (Strauss). Even so, they rarely understand the tremendous workload schools put on their students. Right now, the most effective way to help teenagers manage healthier lives, be more focused people, and function at a higher level

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