American teenagers are getting far less sleep than needed for them in order to function properly. The health, behavior, and academic performance of teenagers are suffering as a result of their sleep deprivation. According to parents reports in the 1999 nationwide survey, Sleep in America, sixty percent of children under the age of eighteen complained of being tired during the school day. Fifteen percent of these children also reported falling asleep during school (par. 5). In order for teenagers to reach their peak in learning ability, school times need to start later.
Recent research into adolescent sleep patterns has consistently shown that most teenagers need a minimum of nine hours of sleep each night. Yet, for biological reasons, teenagers generally cannot go to sleep earlier than 10:30 p.m. To get the necessary nine hours of rest, while going to sleep at 10:30, teenagers would be waking up at 7:30 in the morning. With most high school starting times between 7:15 and 7:45, few teens are able to achieve the minimum amount of sleep that is desperately needed The lack of daily sleep causes chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation in the general population has been clinically proven to decrease the ability to concentrate. It also decreases the ability to learn and promotes poor decision-making. Depression and mood swings are also associated with sleep deprivation. In order to decrease sleep deprivation among teenagers, school starting times must be delayed.
Scientific research is showing the country that later school start times are helping teenagers to reach their full potential in school. In Minneapolis, high schools pushed their starting times up from 7:15 to 8:40 in 1997. According to the results from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, the results were extremely positive. Kyla Wahlstrom, associate director of the Center, states, The students report feeling better about themselves, falling asleep less in class, and being more alert when they do homework. We are also finding a definite trend in terms of better grades on standardized tests (9/21/99, Washington Post). In the senior class of one Minnesota city high school the top ten percent of the class scored 580 to 600 on both sections of the SAT. Three years after switching to later school starting times, the top range is now 720 to 760. This is a twenty-seven percent increase. Minnesota schools are not the only schools that have seen major improvements in standardized testing since delaying school start times. Standardized test score improvements are a main reason to start school times later in the day.
Hormones inside the developing teenager effect their sleeping and waking cycles. These sleeping and waking cycles are called circadian rhythms. One hormone in particular, melatonin, is the primary hormone to induce sleep. Research in Washington, D.C. has shown that normal biological changes occurring during puberty affect an adolescents internal sleep- wake clock. These changes push a teenagers circadian rhythm farther and farther beyond normal. This biological clock change leaves many adolescents not physically able to fall asleep until 10:30 p.m. or later. People tend to think the answer to this problem is to send children to bed earlier on a regular schedule. Research has shown this solution is not scientifically correct. Until enough melatonin is produced, teenagers will either stay awake or not sleep well (Lindsley 2). Adolescents who obtain an adequate amount of sleep tend to be drowsy during the morning and alert in the afternoon. This proves that the circadian rhythms of teenagers are significantly different from those of adults.
Teenagers have unique sleep needs due to their biological development. Since the amount of sleep a student receives correlates strongly with academic performance and social behavior, it is important for high schools to have later starting times. The positive effects are becoming obvious as increasing numbers of schools change their starting times to a later hour in the morning to accommodate to teenagers needs.