Science meets start time

May 7, 2018

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later in order to give adolescent students time to get the amount of sleep their bodies require.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) citation of the 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study, 93 percent of American high schools (then) started before 8:30 a.m.

SHS’s 7:20 a.m. bell has seen scrutiny since several local public high schools’ decisions to push back their start times; it comes as no surprise that the plague of sleep deprivation runs rampant in high schools like ours.

But aside from tasting the sun-soaked pleasure of waking up after 6:00 a.m., let us endeavor to comprehend the full scientific reasoning behind and benefits of this solution.

First understand that teenagers require more sleep than adults because they are at a critical stage of growth and development. The average sleep requirement is nine and one-quarter hours, with eight hours as a minimum.

These rapid changes in their bodies team up with busy schedules, the demands of an active social life, and a botched view of sleep to inhibit attempts to get an adequate amount of rest.

Some adults recommend an earlier bedtime. This suggestion, however, fails to consider the hormonal changes all adolescents undergo.

These changes, specifically the secretion of a chemical called melatonin, alter the natural circadian rhythm (the internal biological clock), making it difficult to fall asleep early in the evening, namely before 11:00 p.m.

Our circadian biological clock and sleep/wake homeostasis are the two systems that regulate sleep.

The circadian rhythm regulates the timing of periods of wakefulness and sleepiness over the course of the day. When it changes during adolescence, most teens experience a sleep phase delay, making later bedtimes difficult to avoid.

Most teens face the strongest circadian energy “dips” from 3:00 to 7:00 a.m. and from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Without adequate sleep, the morning “dip” can extend to 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., creating a drowsy vicious cycle when school starts early and keeps students up late.

Sleep/wake homeostasis, on that note, is what notifies the body after a long period of being awake that it is time to sleep. It also helps them sustain enough nightly sleep to compensate for the time they are awake.

In all, the paradigm of adolescent sleep is one that must be maintained via specific requirements— requirements which an early school start time can make difficult to fulfill.

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