I have teenagers, which means "morning" on non-school days usually happens at around 2 p.m. Although I have been known to kid them about wandering downstairs in their boxers looking for breakfast while I’m cooking dinner, I am actually okay with this.
Through no fault of their own, teenagers are completely exhausted. High school begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends around 2:30 p.m., depending on the school district. After school are practices, rehearsals, club meetings, and part time jobs, followed by several hours of homework. Factor in eating, maintenance activities, and the hormonal changes that come with puberty, and it is a wonder how most kids can remain upright and coherent most of the day.
The amount of sleep adolescents require is about 9.25 hours each night. Given that students usually rise at about 6:15 a.m., kids would have to go to bed at around 9 p.m. to get enough sleep. However, at this age sleep patterns shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult for students to fall asleep much before 11 p.m., even if they had the time to go to bed that early, which they typically don’t.
It is well documented that students are sleep deprived, making staying alert, engaged, and focused in school difficult at best. Sleep deprivation also impacts the ability to solve problems, retain information, and deal with stress. Actually, it affects the overall performance of just about everything, including the ability to drive safely, which should in itself be enough of a reason to push back high school start times.
This is not a new issue and the primary reason high schools do not start later is busing. School times are staggered so fewer buses are needed to accommodate students. Given this information, it is a wonder why elementary schools and high schools do not flip schedules. It makes perfect sense; little kids are naturally early risers, have no problem going to sleep early and learn better in the morning. One argument is that if school starts so early for elementary school, the kids will have to wait for the bus in the dark during winter. So it’s okay to have 9th graders wait in the dark? At least little kids have parents waiting with them, or should anyway.
Most teenagers catch up on much needed sleep during the weekends. As adults, it is hard to remember the ability to sleep 12-13 hours at a time. Most of us couldn’t sleep that long even if we had the time, but rarely do you hear a teenager say, “No matter what time I go to bed, I just can’t sleep past 7 a.m.” It’s a combination of biologically changing sleep cycles, mismatched school schedules, and the demands on their non-school time that makes it necessary for teens to pay back some sleep debt over the weekend.
Catching up on sleep will also make them less cranky, so do yourself a favor and let them sleep.
Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1
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