How much sleep did you get last night? Five hours? Eight? Twelve? Chances are, if you’re a teen who goes to a public middle or high school, you’re not getting enough.
Sleep is a very important function in everyone’s lives, just as much as food, air, and water. Not getting enough of it can cause serious problems. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to become overweight, not engage in daily physical activity, suffer from depressive symptoms, use stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol, and perform poorly in school. If that’s not enough, sleep deprivation has also been attributed to about 100,000 traffic crashes per year in the U.S., and lapses in attention, of which sleep deprivation is a major cause, are attributed to one million crashes per year — that’s one sixth of all traffic crashes per year in the U.S. This is especially magnified in adolescents.
Adolescents are different from children and adults with their circadian rhythms, or sleep cycles. Adolescence is a major stage of development, so the body needs, on average, about two hours more sleep than children and adults. In addition, the secretion of melatonin, the hormone which controls sleep, begins on average two hours later than in adults and children. The U.S. public school systems only add to the trouble.
According to the most recent Schools and Staffing Survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Department of Education every few years to provide data on the condition of elementary, middle, and high school education throughout the country, only 17.7% of middle and high schools of the 39,700 surveyed, start after 8:30 a.m., which is the start time the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges schools to have in order to improve the health, safety, and academic performance of students. The countrywide average start time is 8:03. Only two states have average start times after 8:30, those being North Dakota at 8:31 and Alaska at 8:33. The even worse part is how early these start times get: 38.6% of schools start before 8:00, and 6.7% start before 7:30. Louisiana holds the earliest average start time, at 7:40.
Of an estimated 26.3 million students enrolled in public middle and high schools, the amount that have gotten enough sleep has remained at 31% since 2007, the first year that the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey included a question about it. The amount of sleep defined to be “sufficient” is 8.5 to 9.5 hours by the AAP, and eight to ten hours by the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep is a very important aspect of life, and schools only make it more difficult for teens to get the necessary amount of sleep in order to function during daily life. Shifting school start times to even just a half hour later would benefit everyone’s health drastically. So, the next time you wake up miserably for school at 6 a.m., just know that it shouldn’t have to be the case.