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Editorial: Teens need to sleep
Anyone who's ever lived with a teenager, or even been one, knows how hard it is to get them up in the morning.
Sure, there are the occasional larks who are up with the dawn with a song in their hearts. But for the most part, teens just aren't wired to be at their best that early.
That's why a recent guideline from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education recommends that high schools and middle schools have students begin class no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
York County teens are starting their days much earlier than that.
On average, York County high schools and middle schools start the school day at 7:43 a.m. The earliest risers are Spring Grove, where the high school classes begin at 7:25 a.m. and middle school at 7:27 a.m., and South Eastern, where middle school starts at 7:25 a.m. and Kennard-Dale High School students begin class at 7:30 a.m.
"Kids just aren't naturally inclined to be awake at that time," said Dr. Elizabeth Imboden, a pediatrician at WellSpan’s York Pediatric Medicine.
South Western School District comes closest to the recommended starting time, with high school students in at 8:25 a.m. and middle schoolers at 8:36 a.m.
It's not just laziness that keeps teens from being awake early. Many studies have shown that as children enter adolescence, their natural sleep patterns change. That's why a child who is up, eating breakfast and playing before 7 a.m. turns into a teenager who stays up until midnight and sleeps until noon.
According to Imboden, teenagers would naturally fall asleep around 11 p.m. and wake up after eight to 9½ hours of sleep, which would have them waking up between 7 and 8 a.m. Hard to do if you have to be at school at 7:30.
Meanwhile, elementary-age students, who are the natural larks of the world and often wake up at 6 a.m. on their own, begin the school day around 9 a.m., hours after they have woken up. They, in turn, are in school until the late afternoon.
The easiest solution would be to simply switch start times for elementary schools and high schools, putting younger children in school at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and letting the teens sleep a little later and begin at 8:30 or 9.
But logistically that's not happening. For one thing, elementary-age children would be standing at bus stops when it's still dark, which is a safety issue. For another, teenage lives are built around having a long afternoon after school for extra-curricular activities, sports, jobs and other activities.
Also, parents who have elementary children and jobs don't want them home alone for hours, and teachers are loathe to change their current schedules.
But something needs to be done to get teenagers on a better schedule for them.
The National Sleep Foundation has written legislation to encourage schools to reconsider their start times with a view to adolescent health.
Anyone who has ever tried to learn calculus at 8 a.m. will thank them.