A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Are students sleep deprived?

Sleep. The world alone can make a person tired, not to mention all of the other activities in a teenager’s life. LHS students are expected to be bright-eyed and ready to learn with pencil and paper in hand to attend a 7:20 am start time every school day. But is this the way it should be? This is a question students, teachers and school administrators have been needing to ask themselves.

Mountains of research have been conducted on sleep. And if nothing else it has revealed that sleep is a biological necessity for humans to function in everyday life, not a weekend luxury. The harmful side effects of sleep deprivation include lack of energy, weakened academic performance, poor health and even an increase in risk-taking behavior. These are exact opposites of the things students need to function in everyday life and succeed in high school.

This clearly states why the National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-9¼ hours of sleep per night for adolescents and why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum 8:30 am start time for high schoolers. In one Massachusetts school, which changed its start times from 7:25 to 8:30, it resulted in a 53% decrease in dropout rates and an 88% decrease in the number of total days students were suspended for disciplinary action.

And yet, LHS starts at 7:20 am.

“It’s so early, and people have to get up even earlier than that just to get dressed or get here, so I feel like school should start at a later time,” said Junior Noor Ali Kurdi, adding “early in the morning it’s really hard to be focused.”

Social studies teacher Will Daniel has also observed the lack of focus in his classes.

When asked about in which class periods students were most able to focus and willing to learn, Daniel said “third [period] definitely more than a first hour class, [students have] more energy, tend to be more attentive. They’re already here, people aren’t straggling in.”

A relatively common response regarding students being tired at the beginning of the day is that they should just go to bed sooner, but the fact is that teenage brains actually become physically wired to stay up later. Teenagers naturally tend to stay up late, not just because of homework and other responsibilities, but also because of the additions of video games, social media and activities involving the use of screens. The circadian rhythm is essentially the human brain’s own alarm clock, designed to correlate with the rising and setting sun. In its most basic sense it functions so that you are awake in daylight and tired when it is dark, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Screens can alter this cycle because they trick the brain into believing it is daytime and therefore time to be awake. Thus it can be easier to stay awake deep into the night. But the body still needs the appropriate amount of sleep, which causes a person to wake up later, something early school start times do not allow.

Compounding this problem is that students lead busy lives even after school ends at 2:14 pm. Senior Miguel Donohoo works as long as 5:00 – 10:00 pm on weeknights, and junior Emma Carpender is on the volleyball team and with an IB homework load, is often up past midnight. Donohoo and Carpender are just two of many other students who have significant outside-of-school dedications between extracurricular activities, academics and jobs. Furthermore, a number of students drive themselves to and from school.

However it is rather difficult to just move up start times. It takes tremendous work to coordinate the logistics and schedules of teachers, buses and after school activities, especially in districts like LPS which must negotiate between elementary, middle and high schools. These are usually the most significant reasons schools/school districts never end up changing their start times. These reasons should not outweigh the numerous scientific studies, research papers and case studies which have shown that later start times would go a long way in helping teenagers thrive in school.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, where the profusion of sleep studies and research that has been conducted will be discussed, and following that the final story about what a later start time would look like here at LHS.