Middle and high schools should start later in day

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007

It's 6:50 in the morning, and I'm wrapped up in my big down blanket, sleeping peacefully until - beep, beep. My stupid alarm clock goes off.

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It's at full blast, the only way it'll wake me up. I really want to press the snooze button, but I know I have to get up now or else I won't have time to do what I need to.

Eat, make my lunch, get dressed, brush my teeth, brush my hair, finish homework, print out homework and get all my school stuff. It's such a drag. With heavy eyes, I crawl out of bed and slowly pull myself upstairs. Ugh. Often I'm not even done by the time I need to be out the door. It's 7:45 a.m., still pretty much dark, gloomy and cold to walk down my big hill to catch the bus. As I walk down the hill, heavy backpack, violin and all, I fantasize about school starting at 10 a.m. - maybe even 10:30.

But what if school did start at 10 or 10:30 a.m.? Seriously, I wouldn't mind getting out of school at 5 or 5:30 p.m. I ask myself, what is the point of dragging teens out of bed so early in the morning? If we started school later, even just by 45 minutes, then teens wouldn't be so tired. Teens wouldn't sleep through alarms as often, and teens' brains would be more awake and refreshed. I know I would absolutely love to get up at 9 a.m. on weekdays instead of 6:50.

I often hear adults saying, "Once you get into junior high and high school, you need more sleep than in elementary." Then why did elementary school start at 9 a.m., and now in middle school 8:30 a.m., when I'm catching the bus at 7:45? I think it absolutely makes no sense at all. According to Stanford University research, teens need 9¼ hours of sleep, but 85 percent of teens get less than 8½ hours of sleep, even less than the needed amount of time.

A lot of adults think that teens are just lazy for liking to sleep in late and stay up late to talk to friends, but the truth is teens can't fall asleep. Studies, such as one in Science World magazine, have shown that teens have different circadian rythyms than adults, which means teens produce melatonin later at night.

In younger kids and adults, the melatonin comes earlier, and in teens melatonin tells the body to stay up later and get up later, and so teens are programmed to do so. According to adoption.com, most teens' brains typically need sleep from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.

If teens don't get enough sleep, they can get sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can do much damage, such as impairing memory, inhibiting creativity (making it difficult to learn), causing lack of self-confidence, making mood swings worse than before, causing depression and endangering the immune system, making teens more prone to serious illnesses. Sleep is a neccesity equal to eating well and exercising.

One of the major U.S. school districts, Minneapolis Public Schools, has adjusted its start times because of this research. The middle schools now start at 9:40 a.m. and teachers are reporting better grades and improved moods.

Juneau should follow Minneapolis's lead and start middle and high school later. Parents and teachers will likely find the same positive outcomes. Why not try it?

• Savana Carroll is a seventh-grader in Sarah Brooks' writing workshop class at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. From the Hallways is a monthly column showcasing the thoughts and opinions of students in McKenna's high school journalism class and Brooks' middle school writing workshop.

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