February 2, 2008

"Trying to wake up a teenager before 7 o’clock is like trying to awake an adult before 4 a.m."

Studies show that "youngsters — beginning around age 12 until they reach their mid-20s — only start producing melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, around 11 p.m. and that production peaks until about 7 a.m. In adults, melatonin peaks until around 4 a.m." So shouldn't middle and high school start much later than they do?

Obviously, yes, but the adults don't want to change things. You'd have to let the parents go to work later too — because even if those teens can sleep until 9, you can't trust them to get up on their own even at 9, can you? If you let teenagers sleep on their natural schedule — perhaps you do in the summer — they may sleep into the afternoon. Left to my own devices as a teenager in the summertime, I would sleep until 5 p.m. — and then stay up until dawn. (Admittedly, that had something to do with avoiding my parents.)

But why not help teens by changing the school schedules and promote flex-time for adults at their places of employment? Maybe not enough adults want to work from 10 to 6 or 11 to 7. We start winding down in the afternoon. As an adult, I've long found 4 p.m. to be the rock-bottom energy point of the day. (This academic year, I accepted the offered class time of 4 p.m. and found that I like it very much. If I have to do something at 4, I'm up for it. If I'm reading and writing at 4, I'm not too efficient. So, I've learned something new about scheduling.)

So, will adults rearrange their lives and subordinate their preferences to help teenagers? Unlikely! No one really wants to help teenagers. We already think they have it too easy. They look like adults, but they aren't self-supporting. Meanwhile, we adults struggle. Are we to struggle more so they can stay up past midnight and sleep late? Say what you will about melatonin, as long as adults are making the decisions,the answer is obvious.


Pogo said...

It's amazing how the world's population of teens ever survived this lack of knowledge about melatonin timing.

Why, see how destructive your own high school years were. wrecked you completely.

And for millenia, kids worked on farms just like adults. The catastrophe was....?

Research like this is meaningless. They found numbers for a protein and assume it drives a certain conclusion about what to do, when the numbers by themselves mean absolutely nothing all.

Several competing answers fit the same scenario.

rhhardin said...

The roosters out back start crowing about 4am. But they don't leave the tree and do useful work until about 7am. They retire correspondingly early.

Dogs keep the same hours you do, at least as to changing where they sleep.

I get up around 3am. Rise and shine. The early bird gets the worm. Healthy wealthy and wise.

Do not linger in bed like the slothful rooster.

ricpic said...

Luckily for rhhardin's dog rhhardin naps. Otherwise there'd be big doggy bags under doggy's eyes.

Would it really be so revolutionary to push back the start of classes from 7:30 to 8:30? That's all the article advocates.

Joe said...

Watching my teen boy shuffle zombie-like in the morning, and remembering my teen/college years, I think the study is on to something. A 9 am school start, running to 5, seems a better fit to teenagers.

I also think that they work the kids harder. At least my kid works harder in high school than I did. Not that I want him to do what I did in my free time, what I can remember of it.

Dave F said...

I went to boarding school in Maine...we had to be awake at 6AM, breakfast at 6:45AM, classes started at 7:45AM.

Classes went till 1PM, then lunch, then sports for three or four hours, then homework till 1130PM lights out.

Can't say that such a schedule was fun, however, most kids adjusted to it fairly quickly.

I'm wary of any study that concludes something inherent in the nature of teenagers precludes them from doing something.

Roger Sweeny said...

I teach high school and every teacher agrees that first period is usually dead. Most of us know that teens find it hard to go to sleep at night and hard to wake up in the morning.

So why doesn't school start later? It's not that we don't care about teens. It's that teens care about more than one thing.

Many of them have jobs. Starting school at 8:30 means ending school after 3. All those 3-6 part-time jobs are no longer available. When a business closes at 5 or 5:30, it's not going to offer someone a job starting at 4. A 4-7 shift means no family dinner.

And then there's sports. School ending after three means away games start well after 4. You have to get to the place, suit up, and warm up. By the time you're home, it's after 7 again.

former law student said...

When I was a kid, grammar school started at 9, and high school started at 8:45. I'd wake up at 8, run through the bathroom, dress, and briskly walk the mile to school. Now I think it starts before 8.

I can think of no businesses that close at 5 that employ teenagers, by the way.

Maxine Weiss said...

Ann, if you are having sleep problems, why on earth do you keep ingesting caffeine ?

It's very obvious that your system can't tolerate caffeine.

Of course, without caffeine, this Blog shuts down.

Freeman Hunt said...

I can think of no businesses that close at 5 that employ teenagers, by the way.

I worked as a broker's assistant at Merrill Lynch when I was a teenager. They closed at five.

However, I'm sure I could have worked somewhere else if the school schedule was different.

Linus said...

Many of the local schools (Idaho) saw these studies a few years ago and moved the start of school to 9 am. My mother-in-law, who's a teacher, likes it. She feels the kids are more alert (and doesn't mind the extra time to prepare, since she's one of those up-at-5am-everyday types).

Methadras said...

I think it comes down to fear of the dark pushing us to produce all of our activity during daylight hours. Safety in numbers, safety in daylight. Just a curiosity for me.

Maxine Weiss said...

(This academic year, I accepted the offered class time of 4 p.m. and found that I like it very much. If I have to do something at 4, I'm up for it. If I'm reading and writing at 4, I'm not too efficient. So, I've learned something new about scheduling.)---Althouse

(Pssst: Hey, everyone-----be sure to put your most filthy, your most obscene comments on this blog at 4 pm.....because we now know Althouse won't be around to delete 'em !!!!)

Ralph said...

It feels like my blood pressure drops to near-catatonia around 4:30pm for about 30 minutes. I used to think it was related to lunch and digestion, since I had chronic indigestion for 10 years (which turned out to be an allergy to my, and only my, cats).

I revert to a vampire schedule if there's nothing that has to be done during the day for a few days.

Synova said...

My daughter's high school starts at 8:30 and runs to 3:30. It works quite well for my husband to drop her off on his way to work (there is no bus service.) He gets to work before 9, or 8:30ish when it's warmer and the kids hang around before school socializing because their parents start dropping them off as early as 7:30.

I think the extra time helps first period, too, even if they were up earlier. Class still starts at 8:30.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me suggest that another group that is happy about starting school early are the teachers, who, incidentally are also adults. Not all of them, of course, because a significant number of them are more concerned about the students than themselves, but plenty. After all, if school starts at 7, they can be off by 3 or so, and that leaves the rest of the afternoon and evening for other things.

Let me also point out that in my experience, public high schools are much more likely to start school early than private ones. And I attribute that to the fact that public schools can set starting times by fiat, but private ones have to appease their customers. And, of course, many school boards have been captured, at least in part, by their teachers.

I consider the idea that schools start early so that their students can work to be of minimal merit. Why penalize all the students in their ability to learn for the small percentage who work after school? Because, that is precisely what is going on with, for example, 7 a.m. start times for HS students - they are starting school while their bodies are still producing significant quantities of melatonin.

I also don't buy the argument that their involvement in other activities is behind this. For example, most HS students at many private schools play sports, a far, far, higher percentage than play at most public schools, yet they are able to do so starting school an hour or so later.

Holly P said...

Being a student myself, I would have loved high school to start at 9. However, this would have hurt my after school activities as well as encourage me to go to bed later. I was forced to go to bed at the latest 11pm because I had to wake up at 7am. Students aren't the only ones involved in education. Teachers also have lives and families. I support the 8am start time because it also shows the student what real life will be like, when they get a job later on. In college you can chose to go to class and/or pick your classes so you start at noon. High school, though, proves to yourself that you are able to wake up early and still be productive. Even if the students are "dead" first period, at least they are up and realizing that life exists before 11am (unlike college students).