For almost everyone, classes at Chaparral start at 7:35 every morning, with the exception of Wednesdays. On the surface, 7:35 doesn’t seem too bad; it’s early enough to make you tired, but “late” enough for it to be light when you get to school. But, the amount of sleep the average teenager gets is hours less than the eight to ten hour recommendation by the National Sleep Foundation; getting the recommended amount of sleep is surprisingly difficult.
Most students at Chaparral get up as early as 5 in the morning to get ready and go to school, suggesting that the optimum time to go to sleep would be around 9PM, at the latest. But that’s unrealistic. With sports, jobs, activities, and plus any time it takes to eat dinner, do chores, or socialize at all, even thinking about going to sleep at 9 can be difficult. Also, according to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, students in high school have trouble falling asleep before 11PM due to the shift of the internal clock during adolescence.
If teens go to bed around 11PM, and get up at 5AM, they risk experiencing the common side-effects of not getting enough sleep. A study at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University found that teens who get less than seven hours of sleep are more likely to use stimulants like caffeine or nicotine and self-medicate with alcohol. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 100,000 traffic accidents each year are caused by some form of drowsiness or fatigue. They also conducted a survey and found over half of teenagers feel stressed, anxious, and depressed after frequently not getting enough sleep. Doctors also speculate that the increase in mental illness diagnoses during teenage years might relate to sleep-deprivation. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard says that the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease increases as one gets less sleep more often.
The factor that determines how much sleep students get is changeable, and could improve the health of teenagers: the start time of school in the morning. After a board meeting on March 13, Cherry Creek School District announced that the high school start time will be 8:20 as of the 2017-2018 school year. The main intent of the later start time was to grant teenagers with more sleep, based on the research that they gathered over many months. “I believe it is for the greater good of our students. We will do the things that are necessary to make the changes,” said Cherry Creek board member Janice McDonald after the change was finalized.
Changing the scheduled start time for all schools in Douglas County would be difficult and expensive. Like in Cherry Creek, it could take over a year to research studies and convince members of DCSD to approve of changing start times. If such a change was approved, it’s estimated that it would cost millions due to new bus schedules and other adjustments. But, like at Cherry Creek schools, shouldn’t students be the main priority of a district? If not the students themselves, what about the students’ grades? A study at UCLA in 2012 found that, after recording data from high schools in Los Angeles, students who get more sleep tend to do better on tests and understand material taught in class better.
The exhausted sighs in the morning, the yawning in class, the complaints of being tired; could all be significantly less frequent if students at Chaparral got more sleep. Teenagers here could get more sleep, if the start times were to change to a more reasonable hour that would allow teenagers to follow their internal clocks accurately and be as healthy and educationally efficient as they can.
By: Katie Baker