Why early school start times are hurting your health

Sofia Gerhart, Editorials Reporter

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It’s 7:45 on monday morning, and the line at the Starbucks on University Blvd. is out the door.

The line is made solely of THMS and University of Arizona students, leaning half asleep against walls and shelves stocked with mugs and bags of coffee beans.

The coffee scented room is quiet except for the sounds of coffee being ground, milk steamed and the occasional yawn as students fight off sleep.

This is a familiar scene for high school students across America.

At the same time that high school curriculum and standards for college admission have become increasingly rigorous, school districts across the country have been making the start time for their schools earlier and earlier.

The start time for THMS has remained static at 8:00 a.m. for several years now, yet every morning by 8:15, there is a line in the attendance office that often spills far down the hallway outside.

According to Carlos Armendariz, THMS’ Assistant principal of operations, our school’s start time was decided by a “TUSD focus group”, who primarily “used the bus schedules for the schools in the district” to determine the time that affects more than 3,500 students daily here at Tucson High.

Because the same school busses are used across all TUSD schools, there needs to be a window between in district schools’ start times large enough “for bus drivers to pick up and drop off students for one school” before moving on to the next Armendariz said.

Roskruge, the middle school across the street from THMS, for example, starts at 8:53, leaving bus drivers enough time to drop off high schoolers before starting their middle school routes.

According to Mary A. Carskadon of the National Sleep Foundation, nine hours a night is optimal for a teen’s health.

That would mean you would have to go to bed at 9:30pm in order to get up at 6:30am, just an hour and a half before the late bell at THMS rings.

The reason for Dr. Carskadon’s 9 hour recommendation comes from the changing in sleep patterns that occurs during adolescence called Circadian rhythms.

The Circadian rhythm of an individual is essentially their internal clock that operates on a 24 hour cycle and tells you when you should be tired, and when you should not.

A person who consistently falls asleep and wakes up close to the same times every day would have a healthy Circadian rhythm, helping them to stay awake during the day and get tired about the same time every night.

For a high school student, getting a regular night’s sleep is next to impossible.

With varying amounts of homework, sports practices, jobs and weekend activities, there is no way to standardize the time a teenager goes to bed.

What this means is that the Circadian rhythm in most teenagers is severely confused. Not only are we not getting the nine hours a night we need, but we rarely go to bed at the same time as we did the night before, and make up for our missed hours on the weekends by sleeping into the afternoon, which means that by the time 10:00 p.m. rolls around you’re not tired at all.

This is the perfect storm for our internal clocks, meaning even though we likely got well over our recommended nine hours over the weekend, we start the week more tired than we were Friday night.

How can this problem be solved?

By pushing the time we start school back, to 9:00 for example, students would be allowed an extra hour of time to cushion their sleep schedule.

On a night where practice goes late or all your teachers decided to give you homework, you would be able to stay up that extra hour and not be sleep deprived the next morning.

Unfortunately, this would never be able to happen.

If our start time at THMS was pushed back an hour, so would the start time of every other school in the district. Schools like Roskruge would start close to 10:00 in the morning and get out around 5:00 in the afternoon, unless the district commissioned more busses, which would cost the district tens of thousands of dollars monthly.

As I made my way through the Starbucks line, snaking in a lazy loop through the strategically placed tables and overstuffed chairs, I looked around at all the college kids and caught a glimpse of my future self.

There is no bus to blame for your bad sleep habits in college-you can choose to take your first class at noon if you wanted to–but people always find something to blame, other than themselves, for why they don’t get enough sleep.

Even though it’s easy to watch that last Snapchat story before bed and just hit snooze a couple times in the morning, those are the kinds of things that make the sleep habits we don’t even realize we are forming, so bad.

So what can we do?

By taking small steps now to better our sleep habits, we can over time solidify a routine that is realistic for our lives and schedules that will carry into the future.

Because going to sleep at the same time can be difficult, try setting your alarm clock (and actually getting out of bed) at the same every week day.

By getting up at the same time every day for a week, you will create a constant for your Circadian rhythm to follow, meaning  you will be more awake in the morning and afternoon, and ready to go to bed at around the same time every night.

Even setting an alarm on weekends for nine hours from when you go to bed instead of sleeping until we feel like waking up can really improve your sleep during the week.

Regulating, or at least trying to regulate your sleep schedule can better your health, your grades, and your mood.

Maybe you can even skip the Starbucks line next Monday.

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Why early school start times are hurting your health