Basu: Delayed school start times would make for healthier teens


Pia Basu, Columnist

As I walked back to my dorm room after my two morning classes Tuesday, one of which was a midterm, I thought back to high school, something that seems worlds away now. I would wake up at 6:15 after a minimum of five or six hours of deep sleep, commute for 40 minutes, have classes and clubs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with only a 40-minute break in between, usually stay at school until 5 p.m. for extracurriculars, commute home and spend the evening doing all my homework for the next day. I did this for five days, until I could sleep in on Saturdays and Sundays. How was it that I — and I’m assuming many of you — could do that on repeat for years on end, when I can barely get up before 8 a.m. now?

I’m not arguing that either college or high school is more stressful than the other, and I know that everyone has different schedules and commitments. But what I have noticed is that because I’m in college and can choose to take classes that don’t start before 10 a.m., even if I fall asleep past midnight, I still get enough sleep, manage to finish most of my work, see friends and stay involved on campus. Of course, there are days this doesn’t happen and I’m always busy and stressed out to a certain extent, but delaying when I need to wake up does make a difference.

Northwestern can be a very stressful place, especially since midterms begin any time after week two and never end. Resident Assistants, professors, advisors and parents remind us constantly to get enough sleep, especially in the interest of mental and physical health. Sometimes, even with the best planning and time management, there’s simply too much to do. However, fitting in adequate sleep is made so much easier at NU, since as college students, we can make our schedules conducive to our natural sleep cycles.

Unfortunately, high school students often do not have this same luxury. The National Sleep Foundation released a review in February detailing the different amounts of sleep each age group should receive. It created a new category, young adults who are 18 to 25 years old, differentiating this group from adolescents who need eight to ten hours and arguing that seven to nine hours of sleep for young adults is sufficient. Not only do high school students need more sleep than college-age students, they are also far less likely to get it because they have to be awake in time to get to first period.

The American Academy of Pediatrics found that sleep deprivation among people in high school is a chronic problem, particularly since school begins so early. Adolescents’ biological sleep clocks change as they grow up, making it difficult for them to fall asleep early enough for them to get sufficient sleep, disrupting circadian rhythms. In a policy statement, the Academy urged middle schools and high schools to push back start times to at least 8:30 a.m. to allow their students to receive more sleep. Pediatricians suggest that delaying school openings for high schoolers would lead to better physical and mental health as well as higher attendance and graduation rates.

A lack of sleep contributes to a greater chance of becoming anxious, depressed or obese and affects everyday classroom performance and concentration, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Eighty-seven percent of teens are sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The staggering number of people who would be affected by delayed school openings makes it a worthwhile policy change to consider, whatever the political and logistical obstacles it faces. Students should be allowed to do well academically, pursue outside interests and socialize — all while ensuring their bodies stay healthy.

Pia Basu is a Medill freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].  If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].