The Pros and Cons of Being an SUA Sleepyhead

by CLAIRE CRISPEN '15

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is Ben Franklin’s philosophy that has been implemented in high school schedules all over the nation, including our very own here at St. Ursula Academy. But it seems the demographic that this Founding Father’s words of wisdom are not applicable to is America’s teenagers. A decade’s worth of research performed by the National Sleep Foundation has found that high school students’ natural tendency to stay up and sleep in later is biologically determined. Last week, a student survey concerning sleep was conducted here at SUA. Out of the 277 students that responded, 92% find it difficult to get up each morning for school, 89% feel they do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, and 95% feel they would do better in school if they received more sleep. With numbers like those, it seems like a no brainer to have a later first bell. But many school officials believe that, logistically speaking, it isn’t possible. They argue that there’s a lot to lose when you snooze.

Even if a new, more sleep-friendly school schedule isn’t plausible, overly tired teens is a serious problem in our country, especially on our own campus. SUA health teacher Ms. Porter says that 87% of America’s teenagers do not get the necessary 9 hours of nightly sleep. Porter agrees she sees “sleep-deprived SUA students every day, and it is painful to watch.” This is most likely due to our school schedule demanding we wake up before our natural adolescent sleep clocks allow us. Teenagers’ sleep onset, the secretion of melatonin in the brain, doesn’t naturally occur until around 11pm. So if teenagers fall asleep at 11, they ideally should not wake up until 8am. Otherwise, high school students are left drowsy and droopy-eyed in class. In an ideal world, our well-rested SUA students would reap a long list of both healthful and academic rewards, including:

  • Better grades

  • Fewer absences and tardiness

  • Reduced risk of metabolic and nutritional deficits, like obesity and diabetes

  • Less likely to experience depression

  • Less inclined to eat an unhealthy diet

  • Healthier brain function and proper physical growth and development

So what’s keeping SUA, and practically all schools in the Cincinnati area, from making a change for a more energetic, happier student body? Essentially it boils down to waking kids up early or cutting other things from their schedules. Shifting a school day a whole hour into the afternoon potentially disrupts activities like sports, musical productions, and other various club and organization meetings. Ms. Porter comments that “some schools that have delayed start times have reduced the amount of passing time between classes, shortened lunch periods, and eliminated non-academic activities during the day in order to end school at an appropriate time.” In a sense, cutting back on students’ sleep is allowing them more time for social and extracurricular endeavors that develop them into well-rounded, fulfilled young women.

In the end, high school students will always be sacrificing something. Whether or not a new, more restful schedule is in our future, we must recognize the importance of sleep in our lives. Perhaps now SUA can sleep a little more soundly knowing that we are doing a tremendous thing for our health, stress level, and academic performance by making sleep a priority. So go ahead, hit that snooze button one more time. (Just don’t be late for class.)