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School Schedules’ Impact on Teenage Brains & Adolescent Sleep

By Helen Huang, Reese Hornstein, and Aditya Mynampaty, IV Form

School Schedules’ Impact on Teenage Brains & Adolescent Sleep

Editors’ Note: In the IV Form Writing Workshop course, students responded to various prompts after listening to a podcast on adolescent sleeping patterns and the brain.

Helen Huang–

With the early start times and little free time, the current St. Mark’s schedule ineffectively addresses how teenagers get their sleep. Sleep is essential to functioning efficiently throughout the day. Why do teens, whose brains are developing and growing, subject themselves to sleepless nights on a regular basis? Schools like St. Mark’s have tried to account for the little sleep teens get by starting classes at 8:00 or 8:30 am, but kids still arrive to class tired and mentally unprepared from insufficient sleep. The St. Mark’s schedule ineffectively addresses how teenagers manage their sleep pattern. Teenagers do not start waking up until around 9:00 or 10:00 am, and until then, their bodies and minds are not fully alert and ready to absorb information (Rogers 5). Therefore, changing the start time of classes by an hour may not be enough to help adolescents get an adequate amount of sleep.

At St. Mark’s, by the time students fully wake up, most or all of the first class has passed by, and thus wastes the students’ and the teachers’ time. In such an academically rigorous environment, having an early class is not ideal because students who do not get 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep struggle with learning, problem-solving, and concentration (Alic). Unable to properly perform causes stress; it is difficult enough for St. Mark’s students to find time to catch up on work while getting enough sleep, for the current system hinders students who strive for academic excellence, great athletic ability, and opportunities to develop outside of the St. Mark’s schedule. Therefore, students often stay up later than the 11:00 pm lights out requirement to find enough time to complete all of their tasks. However, many are unaware that sleep is essential to the learning process. In fact, “[it] turns out that this process, of choosing and solidifying which memories to hold onto, occurs largely during sleep” (Rogers 2). Without sleep, the brain cannot retain essential information properly, which can lead to difficulty in learning and understanding new material in class. Not only that, but students may think to stay up late will provide enough time to review the material they learned in class when in reality, it is the late hours that prevents their efficiency. Insufficient sleep leads to memory failure and poor performance, both in class and in sports, which can ultimately lead to long-term effects of health problems and depression (Alic). St. Mark’s schedule inadvertently requires students to sacrifice health and happiness for their education.

Works Cited

Alic, Margaret. “Sleep deprivation.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine , edited by Jacqueline L. Longe, 5th ed., Gale, 2015. Health & Wellness Resource Center , http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/XUZVGK163862049/HWRC?u=mlin_c_stmarks&si d=HWRC&xid=64815071. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

Roger, Avery, narrator. “Sweet Dreams.” BrainStorms, episode 7, 23 Oct. 2016. https://brainstorms.org/2016/10/23/episode-7-sweet-dreams/


Reese Hornstein–

High school seniors are quite susceptible to sleep deprivation. Having emphasis on sleeping the correct amount will help teens work through school and transition into adult life. A study at Oxford University concluded that “restriction of sleep periods to 4 h or 6 h per night over 14 consecutive days resulted in significant cumulative, dose-dependent deficits in cognitive performance on all tasks” (How). Students need their brains to be functioning at peak performance throughout the school day to maintain grades and succeed athletically. The average student athlete sleeps about seven hours per night which, in turn, leaves them with ten hours of “sleep debt” by the end of the week (Bartscheck). The most important issue  to think about when deciding whether to stay up or go to sleep is that you will not be able to make up the time. Sleeping-in on the weekend does not improve an individual’s chronic sleep deprivation (Rogers).  Context is important to showing the relevance of sleeping the correct amount: “Being awake for 22 hours straight can slow your reaction time more than four drinks can. And just like alcohol, sleepiness impairs judgment, so you don’t necessarily know you’re impaired when you are” (Van Dongen). Getting the correct amount sleep through your teenage years is incredibly important to your growth and the development of your brain. Knowing that once sleep is lost it will not come back is important to encourage all teenagers to think about their sleeping and know that time waits for no one.

Works Cited

Bartscheck, Frank. “How Much Sleep Does Your Student-Athlete Get Per Night?” USA Football, blogs.usafootball.com/blog/1572/how-much-sleep-does-your-student-athlete-get-per-night.

“How Awake Are You?” How Awake Are You? | Need Sleep, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/how-awake-are-you.

Rogers, Avery. “Episode 7: Sweet Dreams.” BrainStorms, 23 Oct. 2016, brainstorms.org/2016/10/23/episode-7-sweet-dreams/.

Van Dongen Hans, et al. “Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology From Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation | Sleep | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Mar. 2003, academic.oup.com/sleep/article/26/2/117/2709164.


Aditya Mynampaty–

Dear Mr. Warren,

I am aware that you have many misgivings about the student-proposed plan to push back school start times, but there is no reason to be concerned.  I know that some of your consternation stems from your belief that if you delay the start of school, students would use their extra hours of sleep to stay up later, but I doubt that students would misuse their time.  A school in Edina, Minnesota implemented a plan, similar to the proposal put forward here, and “students overwhelmingly did use this extra hour to sleep” (Rogers).  Their standardized test scores skyrocketed and students were less likely to get in trouble because they were getting extra sleep (Rogers).  If we start school here at 8:30 or later every day, St. Markers would get more sleep and the school schedule would be better aligned with their teenager circadian sleep cycles.  Even if students do not properly utilize their adjusted routines, they would “have less problematic behavior [because] their schedules [would be] better synchronized with their internal circadian clock[s]” (Millman).  One of the primary problems that the school in Edina had was the effect that the later start times had on extracurricular activities.  At St. Mark’s, however, we are primarily a boarding school, and, as a result, there are not many opportunities for students to participate in recreational activities outside of school.  All of our sports teams finish practice at similar times, and there is minimal homework for Saturday classes; an evening chapel on Friday night would not interfere with the lives of St. Markers.  Day students, dependent on early-rising parents to drop them off at school, might not see a significant benefit to the delayed start and might be averse to staying at school later, but many of them already stay on campus well after school has ended to eat dinner, do homework, or spend time with friends.  I think that it is worth it to improve the lives of our boarding students, even if it is at the slight detriment of the day students.  There are very few shortcomings to this proposal, and implementing this plan will bring about a higher standard of life for St. Markers.



Works Cited

Millman, Richard P., et al.  “Healthy School Start Times: Can We Do a Better Job in Reaching Our Goals?”  Sleep, vol. 39, no. 2, 2016.  https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.5422 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..  Accessed 14 Dec. 2017.

Rogers, Avery. “Episode 7: Sweet Dreams.” BrainStorms, 23 Oct. 2016, brainstorms.org/2016/10/23/episode-7-sweet-dreams/.

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