Aug 29, 2017
Findings from the latest studies on how sleep affects academic performance and the impact this is starting to have on school start times.
Sleep is important. It has a profound effect on physical health, mental acuity, and performance across all areas, and it's been proven to greatly affect learning abilities. Thus, for students (whose objective is to actively learn), it seems obvious that sleep should be a priority. For a long time, however, schools have sounded their morning bells at a very early hour while extracurriculars and after-school workloads have seemingly continued to increase. The CDC conducted a study on U.S. middle and high schools and found that between 75% and 100% of public schools started before 8:30am across 42 states. For adolescents, it’s difficult to achieve the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night when the average school start time is so early. A response is being seen from many school districts across the nation, with proposed legislation pushing start times later.
There is no shortage to the benefits of sleep for adolescents. At this age, research has shown that a biological shift occurs in our natural circadian rhythms, or the internal clock that urges us to either be active or sleeping in regular patterns. This change delays the sleep phase, causing adolescents to fall asleep later without changing the early time at which they are required to wake up. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-10 hours of sleep for this age group per night although some studies show only 15% achieving this. So what is the problem with a little lack of sleep? For students, it can lead to significant issues with the following, all of which are important in learning:
*Concentration and focus
*Problem solving skills
*Long term and working memory
*Emotional and behavioral control
*Physical health and immune response
Clearly, lack of sleep can affect academic performance, which is why educators, legislators, and other organizations have been looking into how this problem can be combatted. In many states, there has been a recent push to amend school start times for this reason.
A desire to delay school start times has been brewing for quite some time. In 2015, the CDC issued a report claiming that school start times are too early, which seems to have been the catalyst needed for people to take action. The report recommended that school start after 8:30am, and now states are beginning to submit legislation that, if passed, would support this proposal. Currently, individual schools within 45 states have delayed their start times and at least 11 states have introduced bills to make this mandatory. California, as one notable example, is awaiting the passing of legislation requiring schools to begin no earlier than 8:30am. If passed, California would be the first to take local legislation to the state level.
Opponents of the legislation are largely against the increased costs that many believe will result from the change. The costs would be associated with additional staffing required in case students show up to school early and the changes in transportation scheduling and routing. The later start times could also be difficult for parents who have a lack of flexibility with their job schedules, causing children to have to stay home alone for more time in the morning. Extracurricular and athletic activities would likely have to be rescheduled and reorganized as well.
Clearly, shifting school starting times forward wouldn’t come without some legwork. While opposition does exist, it seems as though the benefits students would reap from increased sleep may justify the cost for academic reasons. However, logistical complexities of scheduling and organization within the education system certainly shouldn’t be ignored. So, how should this topic be handled? The solution isn’t really clear. Perhaps there should be more research carried out to determine just how much of a benefit and cost there would be if the legislation were passed. Either way, the recent findings show that this is a topic that needs to be promptly addressed one way or another.
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