As a teenager I, like many of you, have trouble getting enough sleep. Even when I do not have any homework or a school project that needs to be done (which is unlikely), I still have trouble getting to sleep at a fitting time. This daily struggle is common for many teenagers.
Professor Till Roenneberg is an expert on the circadian rhythms (your internal clock that controls when you feel tired or active) and the different chronotypes of human beings. In his research he discovered that over 80% of young people are B-chronotype sleepers. B-chronotype sleepers experience their peak mental performance late in the afternoon or in the evening, as opposed to A-chronotype sleepers who experience their peak mental performance earlier in the day. Research by the psychologists, Amy Wolfson and Mary Carskadon, has shown that sleep deprivation among teens is not only widespread but also affects the performances of students.
A German study carried out by Christoph Randler has shown that B-chronotype sleepers consistently score lower on exams, especially if the exam is in the morning. Even B-chronotype sleepers who are able to manage their mornings well are still not able to reach their full potential. There are also numerous health risks associated with sleep deprivation: an increased chance of obesity, cardiovascular events, and a correlation to neurological problems like depression and anxiety, just to name a few.
Sleep deprivation is undeniably an issue, so how do we solve this problem? Professor Till Roenneberg argues that schools should have a later start time, and given all the support for his argument it is difficult to argue with him. The University of Kentucky moved their school start time ahead by one hour. The percent of students getting 8 hours of sleep or more quickly rose from 37.5% to over 50%. Additionally, the pupils reported higher levels of motivation, better concentration, and higher grades. The Vorbasse School in Denmark has started offering flexible school hours for their students.
There are many solutions to this problem; the real question is in the application of these solutions. I interviewed Mrs. Ferguson, the psychology teacher here at Pueblo West High School, on this issue. While Mrs. Ferguson agreed that moving the start time ahead by an hour or two would have noticeably beneficial effects on students, she also stated that for right now it is not a feasible solution. When asked to elaborate, Mrs. Ferguson stated that the two biggest obstacles to changing the schedule would be transportation and athletics. Our school runs on the same schedule as the other schools in District 70, so organizing a bus schedule to accommodate a late start schedule would be a herculean task. One would also have to consider how to incorporate events like football games or speech and debate tournaments into the schedule, because those would still have to be at a time that was expedient for other schools as well.
Perhaps this option is a little unattainable for our school, however there are still ways to combat fatigue. In Mrs. Ferguson’s IB Psychology class she often has her students meditate. Meditation is not only a useful tool for meta-cognition, but it also enhances your overall well-being. The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine completed a study that has shown meditation can trigger measurable changes in the area of the brain associated with awareness and empathy, and significantly reduce stress and anxiety. During school we have a short period of time allotted for announcements, then perhaps we could set a similar period of time aside for meditation. In the interview, Mrs Ferguson said that if students were given time to meditate there would be remarkably beneficial results. Meditation, as well as having many health benefits, is much easier to implement as a solution. Using meditation to counter fatigue is without a doubt a step in the right direction, but hopefully as the school system gets smarter and more efficient rigid scheduling will be a relic of the past.