Sleepy Teens: An Epidemic

Sleepy Teens: An Epidemic

Carrie Fuller, Author

As students, we have to get up and go to school. Most of us waking up around 5:30- 6:00 am to make the bus. When we get to school we are tired, and that is a problem. Sleep is crucial for developing teens, but why do we get so little of it. Maybe it’s staying up late playing a video game, or doing homework, but early start times for high schools are a big issue. Like most schools in the United States, West Branch Area High School starts school around 7:30. Although starting this early may seem fine, it’s really not. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Medical Association both recommend that high school classes should start no earlier than 8:30 am; an hour after most schools in the U.S. Our students need sleep.

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in high school students. Not getting enough sleep can cause mental and physical health problems. Depression, drug use, and eating disorders are just a few effects from a lack of sleep. In 2017, almost 800 lives were taken due to “drowsy driving.” Many involved in the accidents got less than six hours of sleep, 10% of them were teens(15-18). In a 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, almost 43% of students were getting less than six hours of sleep. Parents are letting their inexperienced teens drive to school, at 7:00 am, with getting less than six hours of sleep. This is a dangerous thing to do, yet not a lot of people know about it.

Hundreds of studies have clearly shown that not only do adolescences need more than eight hours of sleep each night, but 90% aren’t receiving an adequate amount of sleep. You would think going to bed earlier would fix the problem, even so, it is more complicated than that. Every human has what is called a “biological clock,’’ it tells you when you are sleepy and when you are awake. A hormone called Melatonin assists the clock in helping you fall asleep. Most adults and kids don’t have a problem falling asleep earlier because their brain is ready for sleep. However, in teens, going to bed at 9:00 pm, to get adequate sleep hours, is nearly impossible because our brains aren’t ready for sleep until 11:00 pm. If a student who goes to bed at 11:00 pm has to wake up at 5:30 am, he or she will only get six and a half hours of sleep.  

Fortunately, there is a solution; later start times. Later start times means more sleep for our lethargic students. Yes, this will change schedules, but hear me out. Some schools have changed its start times, and have seen great results within the students. The mental and physical health of its students has improved, and even the attendance rates are higher. There are some downsides to starting early like having to stay later after school because of a sport, but I think safety is more important. So does the administrative staff here at West Branch. I had a chance to talk to our superintendent, Michelle Dutrow, and she had shared with me that the staff is exploring the idea of starting West Branch at a later time. Not at 8:30, but perhaps at 8:00 am.  You may not realize, but starting school later could save our students.