Schools all around the nation are debating whether postponing start times is the better option, as opposed to having more time after the school day. Multiple factors appear to be prioritized over this information, causing this sleep issue to be disregarded. By separately addressing these over prioritized factors, it will be easier to value the importance of sleep and understand its effects on students.
The science of sleep
Though one may be unconscious when sleeping, the brain is still working hard to maintain their health and prepare for the next day. During sleep, the brain undergoes huge responsibilities in this short amount of time. Cerebral fluid surrounds the brain constantly to keep it afloat in the skull. When unconscious, this fluid is pumped faster around the brain, allowing waste products such as molecular detritus produced by the brain cells and toxic proteins that can lead to dementia to be eliminated. The brain also works to collect and organize information learned throughout the day. This, in turn, improves learning ability, language comprehension, and hand-eye coordination. The brain works to prioritize memories by enhancing the valuable ones and downgrading the unimportant recollections. In the deepest stage of sleep, the brain sends signals to turn off the motor neurons, ensuring that one does not act out their dreams, as well as organizes memories into chronological order (sleep.org).
Time management is a very important concept that should be understood as teens mature and begin to take on more responsibilities. When people mismanage their time through poor schedule planning, stress can be a result. Stress, of course, is another factor that affects obtaining the proper amount of sleep. Epinephrine and norepinephrine, more commonly known as forms of adrenaline, are both short term stress hormones that trigger one to go into fight-or-flight mode. Typically, these two hormones are constantly flowing throughout the body for the first two or three minutes of being exposed to the stressor. Cortisol, on the other hand, is a more chronic stress hormone that can be long term. High levels of these hormones cause the body to constantly be ready for fight or flight, ultimately leading to sleep deprivation. This can directly cause physical stresses within the body such as stomach digestion problems (yourhormones.info).
When the body is resting during sleep, it undergoes a variety of critical tasks to get one ready for the next day. Sleep “recharges” the different body chemicals such as hormones and enzymes and ensures that food is passed through at an optimal pace. When stress hormones are high, preventing one from easily starting the sleep cycle, they are risking all the “restarting” and “rebooting” functions the body must complete during sleep (calmclinic.com). When the sleep cycle is shortened, the body does not have enough time to finish all the tasks it must complete. In a way, one’s sleep schedule relies on their time management.
Effects of sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation can induce a variety of moods and actions that can cause students to not succeed as well in school. Effects of sleep deprivation include irritability, cognitive impairment, memory lapses or loss, impaired moral judgment, severe yawning, hallucinations, symptoms similar to ADHD, impaired immune system, decreased reaction time, tremors and aches of the muscles, growth suppression, risk of obesity, decreased body temperature, increased heart rate variability, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of developing heart disease, depression, suicidal ideations, risk-taking behaviors, substance abuse, athletic injuries, metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular morbidity, and obesity.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that teenagers get eight to ten hours of sleep a night on a regular basis in order to optimize their health. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 31.6 percent of high school students report following these measures. As for upperclassman in high school who are drivers, they are at a much higher risk for crashing when not getting enough sleep. 73 percent of deaths from unintentional injury in teenagers result from motor vehicle accidents. This number decreases by 16.5 percent when school is delayed by an hour. Also associated with a delayed school day includes reduced daytime sleepiness, increased engagement, reduced tardiness and absences, decreased disciplinary action, increase in student GPA, increase in state assessment scores, increase in college admission test scores, decrease in students sleeping in class, reduced depressive symptoms and irritability, and improved reaction time.
The AASM, along with many other health organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all claim that starting schools by at least 8:30 a.m. will cause students to attend school more awake, alert, and ready for learning material. In schools that start at this time or later, 60 percent of the students sleep at least eight hours on school nights according to the review conducted by the University of Minnesota (AASM).
Why are schools not taking action?
One factor pertaining to the issue of schools not addressing these problems includes sports. Sports activities typically take place directly after school and can occasionally run during the school day. Due to this, administrators have hesitated in making any decision to delay the school day. However, if students are not prepared mentally or physically due to the amount of sleep they are getting, they will not be able to perform and practice to the best of their ability. Sleep is important to all aspects of the human life including one’s mental state, acquired knowledge, and physical performance. Possibly, schools could shorten classes to 1 hour and 15 minutes each, eliminating an hour from the school day to account for the time lost for sports. However, Maryland has a minimum of six hours per day to count as an instructional school day, therefore they would be unable to accommodate the issue for sports. (ecs.org)
Naturally, the biology of teenagers is much different than that of younger kids. Teenage brains secrete the “sleep hormone” known as melatonin around 11 p.m. and possibly even later, causing their internal clock to be off and much different than those of the youth and adults. Issues that arise with the idea of starting school later include that students may use this opportunity to stay up longer, as one would knowing there is an hour or two-hour delay the next day. However, starting late is still important being that the last REM cycle, the most valuable part of the sleep cycle, typically takes place around 7 a.m.
How should Stephen Decatur address this?
Since Stephen Decatur High School is a part of Maryland, decreasing the school times per day to accommodate for sports is not possible. The only solution in our case seems to be delaying the school day by at least a half an hour, preferably one hour. Unfortunately, this may run into the issue of school sports activities, but that is a risk that athletes must be willing to take.