First Period Should Start Later to Let Students Sleep

Sleep deprivation can put  teens at risk for mental illness.

Sleep deprivation can put

teens at risk for mental illness.

By ANNIE JIANG

Waking up to pitch darkness even with the curtains drawn, with nothing but silence outside, I wonder if I have awoken from a dream in the middle of the night only to realize it was time to get up for school.

For two years, I have been waking up at the dreadful hour of 5:00 am to travel to school as the sun slowly rises. During my first period physics class, I try my hardest to resist my brain as it cries for sleep while my physics partner gives in to the forces, his sudden jerks and soft snores claiming surrender.

As school is back in full swing from the relaxing months of summer, many students have to wake up at six o’clock in the morning, or earlier, to avoid the scolds of their first period teachers. This typically means fewer hours of sleep and tired, grumpy teenagers.

Attendance and tardiness is often an issue during first period as students struggle to get up in the morning to make it for the early class.

“People don’t get to school on time and it adversely affects their grade,” said Ms. Jessica Ross, who teaches AP Biology first and second period.

Teachers often try to get their students to show up for first period on time, whether it’s by making them sign the late book or giving out pop quizzes.

“I have a do now in the beginning of the class and it’s worth one point,” said Ms. Ross. “If they miss it, they don’t get the point.”

Although attendance is important, making it on time for first period may not be worth it if that means five hours of sleep and difficulty staying awake during the rest of the day. This does not necessarily mean it is better for students to skip first period, but shifting the start of first period to a later time might allow students to get the sleep they need so they could function their best during classes.

During adolescence, teenagers experience biological shifts to later sleeping schedules that make it harder for them to fall asleep before 11 pm, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This means that they must also wake up later to meet the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep in order to function best.

As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that “middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 am, a policy now backed by the American Medical Association, the C.D.C., and many other health organizations,” according to the New York Times article “Let Teenagers Sleep In.”

Due to first period starting at 7:15 am, it is not a surprise that many students experience sleep deprivation, which has multiple consequences for teenagers academically, emotionally, and physically.

Sleep is a key factor in memory retention, as our brains solidify new information during sleep. Lack of sleep can also contribute to difficulties concentrating and thinking, according to Healthline’s “11 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body.”

This explains how sleep deprived teenagers can struggle to do their best in school. Students spend so many hours in school, and in order to reap all the benefits of it, adequate sleep is necessary. Time in school is wasted if students aren’t able to think or concentrate during class as their brains beg for sleep.

Besides weakening academic performance, sleep deprivation also contributes to mood and emotional issues, putting teenagers at risk of mental illnesses, according to the New York Times article. Chronic sleep deprivation puts teenagers at high risk for many health issues such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.

Many schools in the past have acknowledged the consequences of sleep deprivation in teenagers and have shifted to later starting times.

“Whenever schools have managed the transition to a later start time, students get more sleep, attendance goes up, grades improve, and there is a significant reduction in car accidents,” The New York Times reports. “The RAND Corporation estimated that opening school doors after 8:30 am would contribute at least $83 billion to the national economy within a decade through improved educational outcomes and reduced car crash rates. The Brookings Institution calculates that later school start times would lead to an average increase in lifetime earnings of $17,500.”

If students are to experience the benefits of adequate sleep, a possible solution is to start first period at 8:00 am instead of 7:15. This would allow not only students to get the sleep they need, but teachers as well, who could use the extra sleep to give them the energy they need to teach their classes. 

With a shift in a later starting time, however, after school activities such as clubs and community service may be postponed to later times. But if students are getting more sleep, they are more likely to finish their homework more quickly and efficiently, giving them more time for extracurricular activities.

Later starting times may also affect practice and competition times for athletes, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, schools that shift to later start times experience few problems relating to athletics as they can reschedule practice and match times. Many schools, instead, find that there is an increased participation in sports and better athletic performance as sleep is essential for coordination and endurance.

While starting first period at a later time may create more obstacles to overcome, the benefits of teenagers getting enough sleep will pay off in the long run. A school that offers students such a wide range of class options, extracurricular activities, and sports should first give them the opportunity to get enough rest.