Talk to any high school student forced to be in class by 8 a.m., and they will be the first to tell you that the early morning bell can be a painful and terrible thing — but does school start too early? One of the things I remember best about being a teen, aside from the agony of knowing nobody would ever understand me and desperately trying to quell my hatecrush on my rival for valedictorian, is sleeping through first period. Also second, third, fifth, and sixth periods, and the only reason I didn't sleep through fourth period is because I had the terror of finding a seat at lunch to look forward to.
Painful high school memories aside, one of the hallmarks of being a teenager is sleeping all day, and staying up all night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this is entirely normal — research has shown that teenagers' sleep patterns shift to be much later than adults', and they need more sleep overall. As natural as it may be, however, it's still pretty freakin' annoying when you find yourself inexplicably wide awake at 2 a.m., cursing your sleep cycle with every fiber of your being because you know you have to drag your exhausted carcass to first period in six hours. If only you had a recent research study showing that starting school so early was detrimental to your mental and physical health!
Oh wait. There totally is one. According to a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, school start times should be moved to 8:30 a.m. at the earliest in order to allow teens to get a full 8.5 hours of rest. "Adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” lead author Dr. Judith Owens told NBC News.
In contrast, lack of sleep has been associated with what seems like every health problem under the sun: poor eating habits, higher levels of inflammation, and accelerated aging are just a few of the problems that arise from chronic sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, the study also found that the average start time among the thousands of schools studied was 8:03 a.m., meaning that teenagers across the country are forced to show up to school feeling like this:
Some schools have resisted the recommendation, pointing out that it would cause a reshuffling of after-school activities and work schedules for students, but others have embraced the change. One high school in Long Beach, California, even voted to delay its start time until 9 a.m. Is anyone else incredibly jealous?
Considering that the Centers for Disease Control keep warning us about the national sleep epidemic, as if that will stop us from binge-watching TV until the wee hours every night, the later start times could make a huge difference in teens' lives. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date with some caffeine to get to — all this talk about sleep has reminded me that I missed my fourth coffee break of the morning.
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