Yes please to more Zs!

Charlotte Seton

“Sleep is food for the brain,” according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) website. NSF research has also shown that sleep is critical to one’s well-being—it is “as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat.”

Although the negative effects of sleep deprivation are well-known, many of us still burn the candle at both ends by staying up late and getting up early. Anything we can do to optimize the amount of sleep we get will positively affect our lives, and one obvious way to achieve this would be to delay Redwood’s start time.

High school is one of the most intellectually, emotionally and physically intense periods of many people’s lives. As students at Redwood, we study many subjects each day in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Teachers have noted the shorter attention spans of students in first period versus, say, fourth period at Redwood. This is to be expected because, according to many sources including the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, biological sleep patterns shift to later times for both sleeping and waking up during adolescence. During these years, “your body tells you go to sleep around 10 or 11 p.m.,”  according to the UCLA Health website.

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The impact of less sleep can “limit [students’] ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. [Students] may even forget important information like names, numbers, [or] your homework,” per the NSF. These are mistakes we as students can not afford to make.

Studies show that when schools start later, grades and standardized test scores go up. A study by Colby College economist Finley Edwards found that a one-hour delay in start times “increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.”

In addition, high schoolers are addressing increasingly complicated social and emotional situations that involve greater negative consequences (i.e., car accidents, pregnancy, STDs, drunken behavior and even overdoses.)

Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association stated that “young adults are involved in more than half of all drowsy driving crashes annually,” illustrating one correlation between sleep deprivation and negative consequences. In addition, a 2004 study published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” showed that boys with poor sleep habits were more than twice as likely to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol as other students.

Numerous tests show that chronic sleep deprivation results in lower emotional intelligence and empathy as well as poorer constructive thinking and stress management. A study run by Dr. A.K. Hildenbrand found that “students with insufficient sleep had higher odds of engaging in the majority of school violence-related behaviors… [and] white students with insufficient sleep had higher odds of missing school because of safety concerns.” Later school start times will alleviate this issue by allowing teenagers to align their sleep hours more closely to their body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Finally, many students are involved in sports, adding another challenge as our brains and bodies continue to grow. Additional sleep may help athletes by lowering their likelihood of injury, according to a 2012 study conducted by Dr. Matthew Milewski of the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. In this study, 68 percent fewer sports injuries occurred in teens with more than eight hours of sleep compared to peers with less sleep.

But how come schools start so early? Per the National Center for Health Research, in the last few decades, many schools began starting earlier than 8:30-9 a.m., often due to the cost savings resulting from running fewer buses. As more schools adopted the earlier schedule, neighboring schools did so as well to coordinate after-school activities, creating a snowball effect.

According to Department of Education statistics, approximately 43 percent of U.S. high schools start before 8 a.m., so changing Redwood’s schedule without coordinating with local high schools could admittedly cause problems with after-school activities. However, Marin’s two largest high school districts, San Rafael City Schools and Novato Unified School District, are considering delaying high school start times as well.

Another concern is transportation. Getting home from Redwood would be more problematic as students could be driving in heavier traffic and darkness in the winter time. Many parents drive their kids to school on the way to work. With a later start time, students may have to take public transportation instead. Wait, is that a problem?

No solution is perfect. However, the benefits of a later start time clearly outweigh the drawbacks. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement stating it now “recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success,” of students. It recommends schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

More local schools are adopting later start times, including Menlo-Atherton High School, Moraga Middle School and Justin-Siena High School. Others are seriously considering doing so as the preponderance of scientific evidence illustrates the overwhelming benefits of such a move. These benefits are far greater than the few scheduling hassles we may incur, and as such Redwood too should seriously consider a later start time.