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Features, Opinion

Schools need to look at the science behind sleep

It is unfortunate that many school districts have not accepted the credible, scientific research behind sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is not solely a matter of comfort, it’s a necessity in the same way eating and drinking are. Furthermore, teenagers are said to need a minimum of 8-10 hours of sleep per night (according to the National Sleep Foundation), compared to adults which only need approximately 7-9 hours.

Students arrive to school half-asleep already, many without breakfast simply because they don’t ever have enough time to make and eat it. There are two major factors at play in causing students not to sleep enough. First of all, teens are physically wired to stay up late, and second, schools have set their start times far too early in the day, meaning that as a teen’s sleep is delayed into the night it’s cut off by the need to be at school on time.

So why do we sleep? While scientists agree without question that humans need sleep, there is no specific scientific consensus as to why. Evolutionarily speaking, it actually seems like an inconvenience given that a sleeping human in the middle of the wilderness is exposed to lions and tigers and bears and poisonous creatures. Nevertheless, all mammals and birds sleep, and even fish, reptiles and insects show various forms of sleep-like behavior. It has been determined that sleep is when new cells build for growth of tissue and reparation/replacement of old cells. Teenagers need more sleep than adults because they are growing at such a fast rate, and during sleep is when this growth and development happens.

The first thing that someone feels when they don’t get enough sleep is obviously tiredness. But the problems begin after a person regularly sleeps too little, e.g., a teenager who only sleeps 5-7 hours a night. After just general sleepiness the real issues set in, which included shortened attention span, lack of focus and impaired judgement. Driving while tired is deadly, with over 100,000 crashes per year happening as a direct result of driver fatigue, and there are many students here at LHS who drive to and from school every day, and when they don’t get enough sleep it statistically puts them at more risk of being involved in a car accident.

The research and the studies point to later school start times as the best way to ensure teens come to school well rested. A 2015 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “among the possible public health interventions for increasing sufficient sleep among adolescents, delaying school start times has the potential for the greatest population impact.” But it’s also important to try and go to bed as soon as one can, and to shut off screens and disconnect, and teenagers need to be aware of this in order to get plenty of sleep.

Early start times are cutting off time for much needed sleep for students to function at their best, stay healthy and stay safe. The science behind sleep is here, it’s relevant, it’s credible, it’s replicated and it’s right, what hasn’t showed up yet is an American school system that is accepting of the science and is willing to change. Will it be easy? No. Does it make sense for the adolescent brain? Absolutely.

In the next part of this series we will discuss the reasoning behind a later start time here at LHS.