Several schools in my area are trying to move their starting time to about an hour later. When I first heard about this, I thought, “Big fat whiners. Like its going to make that much difference whether you get up at 4am or 5am to do your calculus.” But it turns out, I was wrong. And a bit of a math nerd in high-school.
You see, teenage circadian rhythms are fixed broadly across the whole species. While my little cubs sleep about 13 hours at night with no trouble, when they hit puberty and on through their late teens, their little pineal gland will start wearing braces and getting acne–but more accurately, secreting melatonin, the sleep hormone, from 11pm to 8am. During those 9 hours, the poor kids are zombies, and it’s not their fault.
When school starts at 7:15 and you factor in getting up early to do all that hair and pretending to shave and catch the bus or go to early activities, teenagers’ brains could be awash in melatonin for the first 3.5 hours of their day. Tack onto that the cumulative effects of sleep debt, and no wonder 20% of students report falling asleep in class. I did. I had to routinely get up early to do my calculus because I routinely fell asleep during fourth period. What a great system I had.
Early school start times are also associated with teenage car accidents and consumption of fatty foods to compensate for low energy levels. Now, I definitely grazed the side of cliff with my mom’s car, once, and full-out rolled the van when I fell asleep at the wheel trying to turn in an English paper the morning after a 2-day choir trip. Calculus? Choir trips? Nearly killing yourself over AP English? Look, I never claimed to be cool. You knew what I was when you picked me up. I also ate way too many Oreos in those days, but I’m not sure how much of that I can blame on the high-school start time.
Looking forward to the unthinkable time when my little bitties will have to go to high-school, I am starting to question the wisdom of early activites. Especially since the research shows moving school start times back is associated with slight increases in scores, and not surprisingly with lower rates of depression and teens feeling better generally.
Something to think about. Maybe I’ll sleep on it.
Speaking of teenagers who outgrow the awkward, ugly duckling phase, what do you think of the new look of the blog?! Many, many thanks go to Jennifer Craw and Jeremy Taylor for all their great ideas and hard work. We’re not 100% finished, but they’ve taken my sad, homesewn craft project in hand and are turning it into a work of art.