The Complicated Relationship Between Sleep and School


Lucy Jaffee, Staff Writer

Every day, teenagers nationwide come to school deprived of sleep. There are many reasons why getting eight to ten hours of sleep simply isn’t attainable for most students: human biology, the social obligation of school, demand coming from school and outside activities, electronics, and staying present on social media and talking with friends. The average 11:00 PM bedtime does not combine well with an early school start time. Across the country, over 70% of students are sleep-deprived, suggesting most of their schools start before 8:30. With most students taking longer than an hour to get ready and commute to school, the actual wake-up time versus the school start time is drastic.

Studies are being released showing the harmful effects of getting so little sleep. Teenagers who come to school sleep-deprived are at great risk of lower academic and athletic performance as well as physical and mental health problems. Problems like obesity and depression are more likely to affect someone who is sleep-deprived. In addition, teenagers who drive to school with less than eight hours of sleep are technically “drowsy” driving and could cause accidents. Even starting the day 30 minutes later would make a vast difference. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 ordered all schools to begin at 8:30, few districts have made the switch.

School districts in Seattle are pioneering the change to begin school later. Seattle city officials have made the switch from a 7:50 to 8:30 start time. A study was conducted by the University of Washington to test the effects this change had on the students. Students took advantage of the delay and on average received 34 minutes more sleep per night. The academic effects were also astounding. 92 students taking the same biology class were drawn from two high schools, both starting at 7:50. A year later, after each school had switched the start time to 8:30, another group of students taking the same class was compared. On average, the biology students starting school later received grades that were 4.5% higher than the previous group. Although this percentage may seem small, this could be the difference between an A and B for many students.

Teachers also observed students being more attentive and awake during class as well as receiving fewer tardies and absences. A teacher at Franklin High School, one of the two schools in the study, noted that “some of the best practices in science education have students talk, discuss and investigate together and those are all very hard when the brain is not fully powered.” Sleep deprivation can limit a student’s brain function, something especially important in a classroom environment. In addition, teachers found class time to be more productive since more students were participating and processing information learned. Public school districts are benefitting as well, as the  government provides money for schools based on attendance, not enrollment. Therefore, when students are absent because of sleep deprivation, the school is not receiving maximum aid from the government.

Based off of the results from the study, there seems to be no setbacks to a later start time, however, that is not the case. Starting school even 40 minutes later can be very difficult to coordinate, and the consequences of a later start time are not favored by all. Bussing is a main issue, as bus schedules are carefully planned by schools and many schools rely on buses for funding. Rearranging an entirely new schedule can be time-consuming and costly, not to mention flawed. Many of the negative consequences of starting later involve the delay in when school gets out. Extracurricular activities pose some difficulty. Many outdoor sports practices require daylight for safety reasons. However, by ending school later, sports would have to start later, causing it to get dark sooner during the practice. Many high-school students have jobs that won’t require late shifts either. Many low-income students can’t afford to lose a shift since they are supporting their families. To add to the chaos, teens need time to get their homework done after all these activities. Ironically, the combination of ending late, having an activity, and then studying for an exam can eventually result in sleep deprivation, which was the problem in the first place.

La Jolla Country Day has tried to tackle this issue by implementing late start every ‘Day Seven’. Although the late start was supposed to provide students with extra time to sleep, many still decide to come to school at 8:00 or earlier. This discrepancy is because their parents have jobs that don’t accommodate the hour change, they want to have study time in the morning, or they like walking to Starbucks and grabbing food. The only way to truly make the switch to later start time would be for every day to start at 8:30 and end at 3:30. Starting only ‘Day Seven’s late, does not affect someone’s sleep cycle, as it is a very temporary and minor change. The switch to late start would not be easy, but a student’s physical, mental, and academic performance may be on the line. The pros and cons are all very valid points, and there is still no clear solution to sleep deprivation and its relation to school.