Walking through the halls of America’s high schools, one might think sleep apparel to be all the rage. Indeed–while this fashion is all too common–it is not simply to be trendy, but to advertise where one would rather be: in bed.
This is understandable; according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, nearly 50 percent of American teenagers are not getting the recommended amount of sleep each night.
As a teenager living off of 6-7 hour nights–and getting more sleep than many of my friends–I can personally say that being a little sleepy bites. I know this well, as I miss out on about 2-3 hours a weeknight.
However, as familiar as Americans are with fatigue, scientists are still not quite sure why we sleep. It has been theorized that sleep shuts down the brain for optimal memory storage or regulating hormones.
One thing is for sure, though: sleep is essential both for survival and function. Seth Maxon, author of The Atlantic article How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body, performed a rather informal experiment in which his high school student self attempted to stay awake “at least four” nights in a row. The “experiment” took place on a school trip through Europe, leaving impressions on the poor souls with his delusional rants and unfortunate yodeling whilst donning a headband.
This anecdote is quite amusing, but readers realize how desperate the situation quickly becomes as Maxon describes the long-term effects of losing a few nights’ sleep. He even cited a lack of concentration in years following.
According to webmd.com, effects on the human body and mind due to sleep deprivation varies. From short term effects (think decreased performance, attention and cognitive function) to long term effects that include serious health issues such as heart attack and stroke.
These dangers are thought to be avoidable due to “catching up” on sleep over the weekends. The truth: to truly clear your “sleep debt”, you would have to sleep about 7 hours for that weekend night plus all the hours you missed during the week.
At Leesville, the sleep debts of students is most likely affecting attention spans and cognitive ability, thus attacking grades and test scores. A Rhode Island boarding school decided to push back their start time half an hour, obtaining encouraging results. Students’ grades in their first and second periods improved along with the alertness and morale of the student body.
As hard as changing the policy would be, the fruits would be sweet for all involved.
Raleigh Charter high school is a golden example. Starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 2:40 p.m., students have a greater chance of getting the recommended ten hours of sleep a night.
If Leesville were to follow this example, the grades, memory, alertness, attitude and general health of students would improve. The improvement would reach far beyond the four years of high school, following the average teenage circadian rhythm. This rhythm causes our natural sleep schedule to start late and end late.
With a school schedule following circadian rhythm, student bodies become healthier by gaining the most benefits of recharging.
Ultimately, by getting adequate rest each night, the future health of the current student generation will be much better. The body will get a chance to avoid serious psychological and physical damage, allowing students to use what they actually learn in school. Students, in mind, body and soul, will feel more opportunistic towards their education.