The Detrimental Effects of an Early School Start Time for Students

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A majority of high school students across the United States do not receive a sufficient amount of sleep. A recent CDC report found that across forty states more than 75 percent of public schools started earlier than 8:30 am. Students often do not acquire the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep due to a natural and biological tendency for teenagers to fall asleep at later times. Contrary to logical thinking, most school systems fail to recognize the destructive effects of such lack of sleep and implement a learning schedule in direct opposition to the mental and physical needs of the student body. Without the dramatic shift nationwide of school start times and the crucial support of the public in order to create a vital change, high school students will continue to be at a high risk of depression, fatigue, and stress, all aspects of which plague the nation's education system and leads to an askew societal mentality which values production more than health and happiness. Research supporting the positive effects of earlier start times is nonexistent and stems from possible logistical issues that may arise from a shift of schedule and not the health effects of such a systematic implementation in American culture. The early school day start enforced by the greater part of high schools in the United States is detrimental to the education and health of students and substantially contrasts with scientific data as it limits students ability to retain and process information, damages biological sleep cycles, leads to increased likelihood for chronic stress and depression, and creates a negative learning atmosphere. High schools across the United States need to immediately administer a school start of no later than 8:30 am. to counteract the destructive cycles present due to the current status of educational systems throughout the nation.

Studies by the University of Minnesota, Brown University, and the Children's National Medical Center found school start times at "developmentally appropriate hours" betters the health and academic performance of students and shows a more appropriate duration of sleep. Although most schools in the United States do not start after 8:30 am., analysis of tardiness and student performance in earlier classes when compared to later times can give researchers a greater understanding of the benefits of shifting the schedule. In a study of public high schools in Chicago, researchers found an increase in absences and a decrease in academic performance when analysis compared earlier class times to classes later in the day. Imagine if the classes at the end of the day, ones in which attendance and test scores skyrocketed, were the initial classes in a school's schedule. Once again, the Pediatrics Academy found, "studies comparing high schools with start times as little as thirty minutes earlier versus those with later start times demonstrate such adverse consequences as shorter sleep duration, increased sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, behavior problems, and absenteeism".

Since 2007, the CDC annually finds that only one out of three high school students sleep eight hours or more during the week, a horrifying statistic when one realizes the chronic sleep deprivation students go through each and every day. Unfortunately, often the decision to shift an individual school's schedule comes down to the superintendent and administrators of each separate school district rather than government regulation. Recently, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC released official statements regarding a needed shift in nationwide start times to no earlier than 8:30 am. The American Academy of Pediatrics in their statement said, "In most districts, middle and high-schools should aim for a starting time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m. However, individual school districts also need to take average commuting times and other exigencies into account in setting a start time that allows for adequate sleep opportunity for students".

Teenage students show substantial signs of fatigue and lack of sleep due to an irreversible shift in their biological clocks and circadian rhythm as well as a shift in the time period in which the production of melatonin occurs. The American Academy of Pediatrics characterizes this phenomenon as a "phase delay" and sites an extreme shift in the process of nocturnal melatonin secretion in the human body along with a dramatic transition in circadian rhythm from one which shifts from a "morning type" to an "evening type" as a result of the onset of puberty. Schools with start times at 8:30 or later found that students do not go to bed later as a result of the change, but actually get an hour more of sleep per night. Overall, the school bell shift gives students an average of five more hours of sleep per week, which may not seem like much, but when put on a larger scale, it adds up to around two-hundred more hours of sleep per year.

The effects of scarcity of sleep resulting from early school start time are numerous in quantity. Researchers and scientists often find an increase in stress, obesity, and depression among others. The National Sleep Foundation found relationships between sleep level and drowsy driving, irritability, depression, violence, drug use, decision making, and academic and athletic achievement. Once more, in a scholarly journal and longitudinal study of sleep timing and circadian rhythm written by Stephanie J Crowley, she identifies the consequences of irregular sleep phase delay as linked to "...reduced alertness and performance,greater use of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, and an increased risk for depression and obesity". All studies point to severe issues when an individual receives insufficient sleep, as research from several hundred researchers and scientists across the country can conclude.

One can argue American society values hard work and production more than any other country in the world. But does being stuck in the way of normality really validate the halt of progress, especially if it is for the better? Advocates against a change in the school system cling to scheduling and economic issues as obstacles in enacting an adjustment in high school start time. As a society all individuals must come together and fight for moral values such as health and happiness and put it above money, greed, and production. A start time of 8:30 for all high schools in the United States allows for a majority of students to receive a proper amount of sleep while also leaving ample time for after school activities, sporting events, bus and public transportation, and the synthesis of the school schedule of the students with the work schedule of parents. American society must become aware of the ruinous cycle present in high schools and immediately put pressure on government and school officials to put forth a plan in starting schools later to allow students, particularly teenagers, to sleep more, perform at a higher level in the classroom, and be more joyful, healthier members of society in order to begin a trend of positive learning.