Last week, seemingly all the national news agencies reported on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendation that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to help ensure older children get more sleep.
This argument is not new, but I suppose maybe it does have more credence now that an accredited medical agency has taken a side. I’ve heard logical points made by parties on both sides of the equation, and, at the risk of sounding like an old-timer, I say, “Up and at ’em, kids!”
The reasoning behind my opinion that the school day should continue to start early has little to do with the scientific evidence that indicates later is better, though. I don’t doubt the AAP’s findings at all. In fact, it’s hard to refute the results of experiments done on things like circadian rhythms, because I won’t even pretend to really understand what’s going on there.
I wholeheartedly believe teens need more sleep and their bodies are genetically programed to want that sleep at certain hours — namely about midnight to 8 a.m., according to the new recommendations. I highly doubt, however, that older children would manage their time responsibly, even if they were given an additional hour or so to rest in the mornings.
Speaking as someone who was once a teenager — and a responsible one at that — I feel pretty confident in saying that students will see the delayed school day as a way to justify staying up later at night. According to a CNN.com story on the issue, older children’s “body clocks” push optimal sleep time forward, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Understandable. But can we trust them all to go to bed at 11 p.m. so they can wake up at 7:30 a.m. with the suggested 8½ hours of sleep they need, ready to start school at 9 a.m.? In all honesty, the answer is no.
Sure, parents have some measure of accountability in this situation. I know my mom used to insist on “lights out” at 10 p.m. But I was wise enough to know that she also had to go to bed eventually. When she did, I occasionally sprang back into action, gabbing on the phone until 1 a.m. or watching late-night television. We didn’t have cellphones back then, but my friends and I utilized our own homemade “code system” to send each other what we thought were amusing messages on our pagers for hours on end. (Yes, pagers. Hey, it was the 90s.) Granted, I didn’t do it every night and, for the most part, I was a pretty trustworthy high-schooler who earned excellent grades, held a job, participated in extracurricular activities and made mostly wise choices.
However, that just goes to show you than even the most responsible teenager is still, well, a teenager. And they’re never going to do as they’re told 100 percent of the time, nor will they always make the healthiest decisions.
There may be a select few who will use the extra sleep time as it was intended, but the majority of students likely won’t. And since that’s the case, there’s no point in coddling them now. Young people have to learn that life is hard and we can’t always tailor our schedules around our preferences, even if those preferences seem to be biological in nature.
As an adult, I’d love to sleep past 5:30 a.m. or get more than six hours of sleep a night. It’s not going to happen. Too many household tasks keep me from going to bed before 11:30 p.m., and a little thing called work prevents me from being able to snooze any later.
I’d never ask my boss to let me regularly come in late because, well, shifting my sleep time forward is just more desirable. Children are eventually going to have to learn that requests like that aren’t going to fly in the “world of work.” Might as well start that lesson as soon as possible.