“An end to the classic ‘five more minutes…’”

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Back in high school, I became acquainted with many of the problems my classmates had with sleep; that is, they had problems with getting sleep. I really had an issue with this, as I always made sure to get eight hours, but I knew quite a few people who had to deal with it. There were the ones who had to get up at 5, or worse, at 4 in the morning just to have all their bases covered in time for school (which, for the record, started at 7:15 a.m.). There was the guy who never failed to be asleep five minutes after lunch ended. (And then there were the teachers — I won’t even go into the details of their awful caffeine addictions).

As it turns out, lack of sleep is not limited to those unlucky enough to attend my high school. (I know, shocker). Research shows that teenagers need, on average, nine and a quarter hours of sleep per day to function properly, but on average they get less than seven a day. This discrepancy, simply put, is why one sees students drooling on their desks during school hours, and why places like Starbucks make a killing off the teen demographic.

Granted, there are several factors that play a role in limiting the amount of sleep teenagers manage to get. Sports, clubs and other activities have a way of eating up plenty of time. Some students have jobs, which can eat up more of their time. Of course, every student has to deal with that dreaded h-word, homework (dun dun dun!), which is the most prevalent time consumer. Lastly, some people just like to waste their time doing who cares what rather than get the sleep they need.

All these reasons, however, ignore an underlying fault with how this aspect of the education system works: given how much sleep teens need, school starts too early in the day. During the teenage years, the body is meant to fall asleep around 11 p.m. With around nine hours of sleep needed, and throwing in some time for students to get ready in the morning, this dictates a starting time around or after 9 a.m. for high schoolers. Compare that to the average high school start time of approximately 8 a.m. and it becomes readily apparent why so many students end up tired at school – teenage biology is incompatible with most schools’ early morning starts.

The solution to this problem is quite obvious: high schools just need to start later in the day. If students aren’t even biologically meant to wake up before eight, it makes no logical sense to start the school day at that time. Therefore, rolling back schools to start at, say, 10 a.m. would aid students immensely. After all, a well-rested student will retain information and be alert throughout the day.

I am quite sure that implementing such a policy would be popular among everyone affected by it, giving all the more reason to do so. Letting every student — and teacher — sleep in another two hours every day? Worded like that, it is very easy to imagine the vote of confidence anyone suggesting this policy would receive from, well, the entire education system. The cons, like an increased need for busing (because many parents are probably at work by nine and unable to drop off their students), are negligible when compared to the benefits: students and teachers being fully awake for the entire school day means improved performance and perhaps (fingers crossed) enthusiasm for school.

Why should you care? I know of many students here at UCR who dread getting the morning classes, and who are perpetually exhausted because they never get quality sleep. While college demands more from students, thus having a significant effect on how much sleep students can actually afford to get, it can’t hurt to propose a similar measure for universities. Letting college students start a few hours later in the day to match their average sleep needs would have all the same benefits it would have for high schoolers, with even fewer cons.

I know I could use the extra few hours of sleep, how about you?

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