Adaptations Needed to Address Adolescents’ Circadian Rhythms Sleep is the fuel that humans need to properly function. The amount of sleep people need is determined by their circadian rhythm, or biological clock. A teenager’s circadian rhythm differs from that found in an adult or younger child. While going through puberty, teenagers need more sleep than when they become adults. Researchers from the National Sleep Foundation have identified several changes in sleep patterns, sleep/wake systems, and circadian timing associated with puberty.
In the last decade, a few high schools from around the world have changed to a later start time that would better suit the sleep cycles of their students. Studies by the National Sleep Foundation in the last five years have shown that schools with later start times better suit their student’s sleep cycles, decreased the dropout rate, and that the students are more alert and have better grades. All schools should change their start times to a later time period to better accommodate their students’ sleeping patterns, resulting in better performance in school.
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Circadian rhythms are the body’s way of telling time, with the word circadian being derived from the Latin phrase “circa diem”, meaning “about a day”(Vitaterna 4). These cycles run on twenty-four hour clocks that do not necessarily correspond with any external influences. The importance of having a person’s circadian rhythms line up with the outside world relies on the fact that all physiological and behavioral functions occur on a rhythmic basis, and disruptions in rhythms lead to a variety of mental and physical disorders (Vitaterna 21).
Many effects can be directly linked with disturbances in the sleep-wake pattern, which is put in disarray by the abnormal sleeping patterns of teens is high school (Science News 1). Teens need as much sleep as when they were preteens. Teens need between eight and a half hours and nine hours and fifteen minutes. Their sleep patterns undergo a phase delay, where the teen goes to sleep and wakes up later. Studies show that the typical high school student’s natural time to fall asleep is 11:00 pm or later (National 2).
Some studies show that the circadian rhythm of teens is 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, but because of the delay, going to bed earlier as well as waking up earlier disrupts the teen’s circadian rhythm (National 2). When a person suffers from lack of sleep, it restricts the person’s abilities to function properly throughout the day because the body’s basic functions become impaired (Vitaterna 22). The problem of lack of sleep can also be associated with the rapid physical development of young teenagers (Weekly 6). Their bodies are telling them to get rest, but their schoolwork and social activities are preventing that.
A study in Israel showed that teenagers starting school at 7:00 am were in distress (Weekly7). They complained of fatigue, fights with parents, late arrivals, and more sleeping in class. As a result of the study, school start time in Israel was delayed to 8:00 am. The change has been highly popular with students, parents, and school faculty (Weekly7). The Minneapolis school district changed their high school start time from 7:15 am to 8:40 am in 1996 (Wahlstrom 2). They were one of the first high schools in the nation to change their starting time based on sleep deprivation (Lawton 12).
Many parents and administrators feared that the later start time would provide an excuse for students to stay up later on school nights. The data that was recorded during the testing of the new start time’s effects showed that this did not happen. Students continued to go to bed at the same time, which was around 11:00 pm. This finding made sense from a biological perspective, as it is likely that nighttime circadian rhythms were contributing to the feelings of sleepiness around 11:00 pm, regardless of the time the students woke up in the morning (Wahlstrom 8).
The students who had a later start time slept about an hour more than students who had to start school at 7:30 am (Wahlstrom 8). High school students are more capable of learning later in the day than in the early morning. Any person will be more awake in the afternoon; no matter what time they woke up or went to bed (National 9). Seeing light informs the brain that it is time to wake up (National 11). Therefore, if the school day started later, students’ cognitive skills such as thinking, reasoning, and remembering would benefit from it greatly.
Teachers who were interviewed in the Minneapolis school district reported that with the later start time, they observed more of their students being alert and that they participated more in the earlier classes. More students came in before class to get help and ask questions because there was more time to do so (Wahlstrom 10). Even though the time for after school activities was shortened, the amount of students enrolled in after school activities remained around the same number as before the school time was changed.
Coaches and activity leaders were supportive of the change because they saw students who were more mentally alert at the end of the day (Wahlstrom 10). This is contrary to the belief that having a later start time interferes too much with students’ after school activities, forcing them to start them later in the day and push the rest of their schedule to abnormal times. However, most activities do not occur right after school, and jobs can be fitted to accommodate students’ schedules.
Researchers looked at how tenth graders fared when taking a test at 8:30 am. On average, they fell asleep in the first five minutes of the test, with a large number of them falling asleep in three minutes. The researchers found out that almost half of these tenth graders fell asleep quickly and went into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest sleep that usually occurs in the middle of the night. It is a pattern that is seen in people with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by sudden spells of deep sleep (Lawton 3).
Mary Carskadon of the National Sleep Foundation says, The implication of that was these kids did not adjust to the school start time — this was fully half the group. Their brains at 8:30 in the morning, second period if not third period — were essentially still asleep (Lawton 4). Later classes lead to better grades. Students who said they got poor grades reported getting twenty-five minutes less sleep a night and going to bed an average forty minutes later than kids with good grades did.
Cognitive function and psychomotor skills are closely related to sleep, and numerous studies have correlated sleep loss with significant decreases in children and adolescents’ performance (Wolfson 1). Studies of middle school and high school students reported that more sleep, earlier bedtimes, later weekday rise times, and less daytime sleepiness were associated with better grades in school and greater motivation to do one’s best in school (Wolfson 2). Students who got less than six hours and forty-five minutes of sleep had a more depressed mood and more sleep-wake behavior problems (Lawton 4).
With a later start time, students are getting about an hour of extra sleep, and parents have noticed that their children are less moody and depressed (Wolfson 5). Even though there is a little less time to do homework, the students were still able to get it done because they have become more attentive in their earlier classes (Lawton 3). Academic achievement by teens has been boosted by steady attendance rates. In schools with earlier start times tardiness during first period has been plentiful, because kids don’t make it to school on time (Wahlstrom 7).
Instead of being tardy and getting lunch detention or Saturday school, the students skip class altogether and are given an unexcused absence. The tardiness and absences add up, and kids are forced to drop out of a class because of excessive tardiness and absenteeism (Wahlstrom 7). Changing to a later start time provides a vehicle for kids to get to school without being tardy or missing class. Research from the Minneapolis study showed that attendance rates climbed over a two-year period from 72 per cent to 76 percent and led to seniors finishing their high school terms (Wahlstrom 7).
With the later start time in the Minneapolis school district, attendance rates went up, enrollment increased, and, most importantly, grades went up (Wolfson 9). The most surprising discovery was that the Minneapolis kids continued to get an hour’s more sleep than the kids who start an hour earlier. One would think that since the kids have a later start time, they would be staying up an hour later, but that is not the case. Teenagers need nine and a half hours of sleep each night to avoid being moody and depressed the next morning.
High schools need to change their start time to better accommodate their student’s biological clocks. In 1999, legislation based on research by the National Sleep Foundation, the Z’s to A’s Act was drafted as a bill. U. S. Representative Zoe Lofgren introduced H. R 1267 in the 106th Congress in 1999, to provide grants to local educational agencies that agree to begin school for secondary students after 9:00 am (National 12). In the future, high schools should delay their starting times to rid their students of sleep deprivation and promote higher learning successes.
It has been proven that the busy schedule of high school students provides little time for a full night of sleep, which impairs students’ learning abilities and causes more stress and pressure to succeed. The conflicts of having school later in the day and after school activities can be successfully avoided, as proven by the Minneapolis school district. If students synchronize their sleep patterns with their biological clock, the extra hour of sleep each night will give them the needed boost to perform to their full potential in school. Bibliography Adolescent sleep needs and patterns. ” The National Sleep Foundation 2000 (27 October 2005) www. sleepfoundation. org. “Does the school bell ring too soon? ??? The amount of sleep high school students receive in relation to school-starting times. ” Weekly Reader (19 October 2005) Lawton, Millicent. “For whom the school bell tolls ??? school schedules tailored to students’ sleep needs. ” American Association of School Administrators on LookSmart (19 October 2005) “Sleepy teens haven’t got circadian rhythm”. Science News. July 2, 2005. FindArticles. com. 02 Jun. 008. http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_168/ai_n14859022 Vitaterna, Martha Hotz, Joseph S. Takahashi, and Fred W. Turek. “Overview of Circadian Rhythms. ” Alcohol Research & Health Spring, 2001 Wahlstrom, Kyla. “Changing times: Findings from the first longitudinal study of later high school start times. ” National Association of Secondary School Principals on LookSmart (19 October 2005) Wolfson, Amy R. “A survey of factors influencing high school start times. ” National Association of Secondary School Principals on LookSmart (19 October 2005)