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Coffin: Making the case for starting school later

Coffin: Making the case for starting school later

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Students everywhere wake up, sweat trickling down their back as an alarm screams at them. They check the time: 6 a.m. They have one whole hour until they are forced by law to enter a building where thoughts will be stuffed into their tired brains. After being “fed”, they will be returned home with an abundance of academic work due the next day. Taking the time to finish all this work means that they will stay up late, leading to lack of sleep.

A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that 60 percent of students under the age of 18 complained to their parents of being tired all day — and 15 percent actually admitted to falling asleep during class.

Around 65 percent of schools in the United States start before 8 a.m. Students, on average, get around seven hours of sleep a night. The healthy average would be getting more than nine hours of sleep per night, but fewer than 20 percent of students actually achieve that standard.

That 8 a.m. start can cause major health risks to students. Mary Carskadon, a renowned sleep specialist for Brown University, studied a group of 10th graders. Those who receive less than seven hours of sleep each night failed a simple test about material they were learning. The students bordered on being pathologically sleepy, a neurologic disorder associated with sleeping sickness.

Not getting enough sleep on a daily basis can seriously hurt you. Harvard University studies show that people who regularly sleep less than six hours a night have a higher than average body mass index, while those who sleep eight hours a night have the lowest BMI.

A lack of sleep increases cortisol — otherwise known as a stress hormone — which messes with the amount of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. Lack of sleep causes the body to produce high levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite and causes food cravings and overeating. Lack of sleep interferes with the way your body processes glucose, increasing the risk for developing diabetes.

Numerous studies also have revealed that not getting enough sleep can also cause heart disease, mood disorders, and a weakened immune system. Sleep is the time the body uses to produce hormones and other necessities needed for the next day.

Teachers constantly complain about students failing academically, yet most of the issues with grades are caused by lack of sleep. A three-year Minnesota study came up with some shocking evidence as to why it would be beneficial for schools to have a later start time. Six public high schools in Minnesota decided to have start times at 8:30 or later resulting in 60 percent of students getting more than eight hours of sleep per night.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Preventionl), “Shifting the school day later in the morning resulted in a boost in attendance, test scores, and grades in math, English, science, and social studies. Schools also saw a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse, and symptoms of depression. Some even had a dramatic drop in teen car crashes.”

Studies everywhere have pointed to the same conclusion: When getting the right amount of sleep, students can actually focus and process the information being given to them. The appropriate amount of sleep leads to better memory and focus.

If schools started later, it would give students the opportunity to have time to finish their assignments and understand their lessons.

Reasons schools may not be up to the task to change start times include transportation and after-school activity conflicts. The bus schedule and forms of transportation is a main reason why start times are “unable” to be changed.

In the reality, there is no need for any major changes, just a swapped schedule. Studies show that elementary school aged children tend to wake up earlier, since they generally go to be earlier. If the bus schedule could pick them up first, the second round could be dedicated to picking up high schoolers — or, where available, have them take public transportation instead.

In many place, school bus and public transportation share a similar route. Many schools have found it cheaper to buy bus passes for students, rather than having to pay for a fleet of buses.

Schools found that starting later meant having after-school activities go later, but most districts that have changed their start time have experienced few problems with the athletic program. Most even found that there was an increase of participation in sport activities and improved team performance. NSF research also found that eliminating sleep deprivation improves an athlete’s endurance and coordination.

About the gift of getting enough sleep, famed dramatist Thomas Dekker observed, “Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”

Elizabeth Coffin is an eighth grad student at Menomonie Middle School who enjoys writing and playing the cello.


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