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Opinion

Crowley: Help students focus by starting school later

Experts have suggested that delaying the start of

Experts have suggested that delaying the start of the school day by an hour could help students get proper sleep, which would increase their performance in school. Photo Credit: iStock

During the school year, hitting the snooze button is very appealing to most high school students. The thought of rolling back into bed and catching a few more minutes of sleep crawls into the head of even the most zealous students. And this urge is really not their fault.

Training for cross-country, completing my homework and studying for tests all prevent me from getting to bed by 10. Usually I am in bed by 11:30, which leaves me less than 7 hours of sleep before I must rise to get to school before classes begin at 8 a.m.

From what my peers tell me, 11:30 is early for most kids. Some are up till way past midnight studying for tests and finishing homework, or just browsing social media.

So what can schools do to help high school students complete all their work and maintain a healthy sleep schedule?

Experts have suggested that delaying the start of the school day by an hour could help students get proper sleep, which would increase their performance in school.

Journalist David K. Randall, the author of the 2012 book “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,” points out that early school days originated when students either had a job or family chores on the farm. But even though dramatic cultural shifts have nearly eliminated those labor-intensive responsibilities, the early school day has failed to evolve accordingly.

Randall points to a school in Edina, Minn., that decided to start high school classes an hour and five minutes later, at 8:30 a.m, to prove the theory. The 65 minutes taken away from the beginning of the day was added to the end.

Complaints came from parents who were mostly worried that their children would use the extra time to stay up later. But for the most part, they were wrong. Randall found that the percentage of students who got at least eight hours of sleep per night jumped from 35.7 percent to 50 percent. Attendance, performance, motivation, even eating habits, all improved significantly if school times were delayed. Also, coaches pushed back practices until late afternoon and participation did not suffer.

Pushing the school day back by an hour has other benefits as well. Even if a student gets eight hours of sleep, studies have shown that teenagers going through puberty have trouble focusing in the morning — not because of laziness, but because of biology.

Randall explains “that adolescent brains do not start releasing melatonin until around eleven o’clock at night and keep pumping out the hormone well past sunrise,” while adults have little to no melatonin in them when they wake up. With all that sleep-inducing hormone remaining in their brains, teenagers are barely alert in the morning. He compares this to flying across the country and instantly adjusting to a new time zone.

Pushing back high school starting times by an hour would not be the perfect solution to improve education in America, but it could be a small step in helping students become more active in the classroom.

 Patrick Crowley is a Newsday Opinion intern and a high school student on Long Island.
 

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