The Struggle for Sleep

FEATURES: Channing Icenogle asks why school starts so early. 

It’s 7:25 a.m. on Monday morning. The halls of East High School grumble with the sounds of tired students shuffling and groaning on their way to class. As the last bell rings, students sluggishly take their seats and allow their heads to drop onto the table, exhausted. The teacher begins to drone on about the day’s lesson as students gradually filter in, many minutes, or even hours, after the day has started. With the problem of students being so tired in the morning, many teachers and students alike have come to the question: Is school starting too early?

Recently, several school districts in Colorado have changed to a later start time, including Cherry Creek School District and Littleton Public Schools. This reasoning comes from the idea that adolescents  have a natural tendency to stay up and sleep in later. Sleep is governed by melatonin, a hormone in our brain that tells our body when to rest and wake. For teens, melatonin levels don’t rise until much later than adults. The average first melatonin peak for teens is at 11 p.m., while for adults the average first melatonin peak is around 9 p.m. Due to the late spike, teens are physically unable to make themselves sleep until later. So, with the start time of schools being so early, students fall behind on sleep.

THE PROS

When districts set their start times back, they observed many benefits for the students. Being more well-rested, students are happier and have fewer mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. In fact, the students with a later start time are three times less susceptible to depression than the students with an early start time. Studies also show that a later start time eventually led to better test scores, due to better focus and attention in class. In fact, students who got more sleep before a test performed almost 10 percent higher than their sleepy peers.

Also, later start times help to improve attendance, due to a decreased need for sleep in the morning. Rather setting and sleeping through multiple alarms, students are more well-rested and find it easier in the morning to get to school without oversleeping. Students who have a later start time also have time to eat breakfast, wake up and have energy to start the day.

THE CONS

However, there are some setbacks to a later start time. One of the major issues: morning traffic. Most adults’ jobs start between 7:45 and 8:00 in the morning, meaning that there is a possibility of traffic delaying student and teacher arrivals. Also, a later start time could disrupt parents’ schedules trying to take their kids to school and still get to work on time. Traffic is not as big of an issue for some families, but it is still a factor that could affect students. With a later start time, school also gets out later, leading to scheduling problems for clubs, sports and extracurriculars. Due to school districts having different start times, there could be difficulty in scheduling competitions.

ADMINISTRATION’S VIEW

The Spotlight met with East HS Principal John Youngquist to discuss his views on a later start time. Youngquist responds, “I’m intrigued by the idea. I think some people are wondering about the importance of the afternoons for some high school students  – like what happens to programs like Athletics.” The Spotlight posed the question, “Do you believe that our school would be able to adjust to accommodate conflicts with athletics and extracurriculars?” to which he replies, “You know, we’ve talked once in awhile about creating some options for students and adjusting the schedule in some way that allows that to happen.” Youngquist expresses the belief that East HS would be able to adjust fairly easily to a later start time.

A STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

Some students express concern that a later end time will have severe effects on their schedules. Tamia Fair, a sophomore at East, believes that the transition would be tougher than anticipated. “I know a lot of people have after-school activities that might conflict with school. It’s especially a problem for people with activities that aren’t related to school, because you can’t skip school for that,” she says. Asked if the pros outweigh the cons of a later start time, Fair responds, “I think that a later start time would help students pay attention more in class, but unless the other school districts changed their times, we would have problems scheduling sports…the later end time would leave less time for students to do extracurriculars and their homework.”

Would a later start time be the best choice for East and would the community make the transition easily? Fair believes, “I think that transition could happen, but it would be very difficult unless the other districts changed their start times, too. I also think that teachers would need to be more lenient with kids who do activities outside of school leaving early to be able to get to their activities on time.”

TEACHER PERSPECTIVE

English Teacher Katie Hellrung is concerned about the transition, but believes a later start time would have real benefits for the students. Hellrung has taught for eight years at two schools, at East and in Colorado Springs, both of which have start times before 8 a.m. “I think many of my students are tired when they get to class, not ready to start working because they are still waking up. Also, the struggles of getting to school on time because of how early it is.” When asked about problems of traffic that can possibly come with a later start time, she responds, “ I think there is the potential of that, definitely, because most adults go to work before or after 7:45 a.m. Then there’s also the problem of transportation for parents who are trying to get their kids to school before they get to work.” Would a later start time would be worthwhile? Hellrung states, “I’d definitely be interested to look into it more. From what I’ve heard, a later start time would help students be more on time and be more awake for class. I think they would be able to focus better.”

Depending on the student, a later start time might affect them differently. The pros and cons seem balanced, but some families may experience a greater impact than others. The DPS’ School Board has discussed this topic before, but has yet to take any action. As other school districts in Colorado change their start times, public opinion may trigger more action in Denver, depending on how beneficial the perceived effects are. “The only way to really see how a start time change would affect us is to actually experience it?”-Tamia Fair