For many high school students, exhaustion is a part of life
CHICAGO — Many high school students don’t get enough sleep. They often stay up late doing homework and get up early for school.
Few students get the 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night they need to grow and learn. For these students, being exhausted is just a part of life.
Last week, a group of doctors recommended that schools start later so young people can get more sleep. The group of pediatricians, doctors who treat children, advised schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later.
Today, more than 8 out of 10 schools start earlier than that. Most Chicago-area high schools start at 8 a.m. Many student athletes have early practices at 6 a.m.
"Not The Healthiest Way"
Students not getting enough sleep is a serious issue. It’s more than just being tired. Judith Owens, a sleep expert at a children’s hospital, called it a “public health crisis.”
Sleep is essential for the mental and emotional health of young people. Losing sleep puts young people at risk for serious diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as they get older.
Owens said starting school later is a simple and effective way to make sure young people are getting enough sleep.
High school senior Nicole Bankowski usually only sleeps five hours on weeknights. She takes difficult AP classes, edits her school newspaper and sings in the choir. She often doesn’t start doing her homework until 10:30 p.m.
Bankowski burns the candle at both ends — she stays up late and wakes up early. Sometimes she doesn’t get to bed until 3 a.m.
“It’s probably not the healthiest way to live, but it’s the only way to get everything done,” Bankowski said.
Busy Days And Nights
This month, Bankowski will start applying to colleges. She expects to get even busier, but she has no choice.
Bankowski said she has to think about her future. “It’s more important than going out or taking a nap.”
Matt Shapiro is another student who doesn’t get enough sleep. He’s president of the student council and captain of his school’s speech and debate team. He gets up at 6 every morning.
No matter how tired he feels at school, Shapiro tries hard to stay awake in class.
Shapiro once fell asleep in class, in third grade. “I never forgot how badly I felt,” Shapiro said. “I never let it happen again.”
Schools Stick With Early Starts
School leaders say starting classes later is not so simple. Starting classes later means ending classes later. That can interfere with after-school sports and other activities.
“I can’t change when the sun sets,” one district superintendent said. “Even band practice would be affected.”
Another district is studying how to manage students’ time so the young people can learn best and be healthy.
For now, most Chicago-area schools seem to be sticking with early start times. The idea to start school later has been around for a long time, but schools haven’t signed up.
Young people face many difficulties when they reach high school. Their changing bodies make it harder to get to bed early. Their minds are developing quickly and school is becoming more serious.
It’s a “perfect storm,” according to Owens — many small problems combining into a bigger one.