by Mio Sidén
Most people acknowledge that young kids need their sleep. Newborns (0-3 months) require 14 to 17 hours of sleep every day, and toddlers (1-2 years) require 11 to 14 hours (Hirshkowitz et al., 2015). And while it is not common knowledge, biologists collectively agree that teenagers (13-17 years) also vitally require 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day (Sleepfoundation.org, n.d.). One could also acknowledge that, at least to some degree, schools are responsible for the mental and physical health of their students. In compulsory school, schools must serve nutritious food in the cafeteria, they must allow children to go outside during recess, they must allow access to a counsellor, they decide the number of hours students can spend in the school is limited, and so on. Many of these rights that we bestow upon younger kids are taken away from us in our teenage years, when we leave for sixth form. One right in particular that teenagers lack is the right to sleep.
In sixth form, there are few restrictions regarding when school can start. The first lessons can be held at 8:00, or even 7:30. However, biologists agree that teenagers not only need 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night, but that they naturally wake up much later than we force them to get up in the modern age. The natural sleep cycle for a teenager starts late at night and ends around noon, so teenagers find it exceptionally difficult not only to wake up in the morning, but also to go to sleep early in the evening (Sleepfoundation.org, n.d.).
Evidence suggests that teenagers are indeed seriously sleep deprived. A recent poll has found that 60% of children under the age of 18 were tired during the day, and 15% had fallen asleep at school at least once that year (Sleepfoundation.org, n.d.). The consequences of not letting teenagers sleep are dire. Not only does sleep deprivation impair teenagers’ ability to be alert, pay attention, solve problems, cope with stress, and retain information, but sleep difficulties are furthermore associated with psychiatric disorders such as depression, alcoholism, and bipolar disorder (Thase ME, 2006).
In order for students to be able to perform at their best whilst in school, and to not become depressed or alcoholic, the only solution that makes sense is having school start later in the day, so that teenagers can sleep and wake when their body naturally tells them to.
Whilst one could argue that teenagers’ lack of sleep is due to technology: That teenagers can not sleep at night because they are on their phones or computers all night, and so they can not get up in the morning. If one were to hold this opinion, one might argue that the better solution is to make parents take away phones and computers from their children before bed, which (in theory) should make them fall asleep earlier and thus be able to get up in time for school.
The argument that it is technology’s fault may seem sensible at first, and while some of the points may not be completely wrong, it fails to provide a adequate reason for why teenagers’ sleep cycles are more or less the same today as they were 100 years ago. Indeed, our generation’s parents are not the first to complain that teenagers are lazy who stay up late and can not get up early in the morning. Our parents are also not the first to complain that today’s youth are “corrupted” by technology. In 1871, an article about writing notes as opposed to letters was published: “The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. When a letter cost nine pence, it seemed but fair to make it worth nine pence… Now, however, we think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.” (Higgit, 2013). This phenomenon is known as “juvenoia”, and it’s safe to say it has existed for a long time. George Orwell once said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” (Orwell, Orwell and Angus, 1968).
Thus, one can conclude, due to the fact that teenagers in the modern day fail to get enough sleep, and that the earlier conclusion in this essay leads one to believe that technology is not entirely at fault for this phenomenon, that the correct solution to this problem is making school start at a later time, so that teenagers can fall asleep and wake up when their body naturally tells them to, as opposed to forcing them to adhere to what, to them, are unnatural hours.