BENNETT: Biology calls for later start time

Adolescent sleep patters make SB-328 necessary


Each high school student begins five days of their week with the rubbing of eyes, the blare of an alarm clock, and an internal dismay. It’s a universal experience. Trapped in that state between the real world and dreams, our eyelids often weighed down by chains, we try to survive first period.

It’s especially hard if we have math.

And, though many will try to point their fingers at us for “poor time management” or “bad sleeping habits” (both of which are likely true), it is not entirely our faults. Ask scientists, who will direct you towards my most favorite fact– our natural circadian rhythm makes a shifts, making later sleep times the norm when we become teenagers.

We’re supposed to be going to sleep at 11 p.m.

We also need more sleep – eight to ten hours to be precise. Gone are those days at six years old of jumping out of bed at five a.m. for our favorite TV show. Now we actually should wake up somewhere around 8 o’clock – and we have science to thank.

Never have I loved science so much.

To account for these findings, California is facing new potential legislation requiring all middle and high schools to start at at least 8:30 a.m. Well, not exactly new – we saw this same bill hit California only a couple years ago, and die.

People fear government interference in schools. People fear busing coordination between elementary, middle and high schools, and fear for parents with kids in elementary, middle and high schools. And, people fear that athletics and other after school activities will run too late.

For the purposes of our sanity, let’s for once put the heated political topic aside and focus on the logistical concerns.

Yes, it is true that we share buses with the middle schools. Yes, it will be difficult for both districts to start later. But we cannot sit back and kick science to the curb without bothering to find a solution, whether that be better scheduling with middle schools or finding alternatives to sharing transportation.

I understand that this is easier said than done, and could place a financial cost on the district, but tradition and preferred budget choices cannot stunt our improvement.

Yes, it is true that there are parents who have kids at different school levels, but there are also districts that have already made this start-time switch across the country, with reasonable start times that are staggered enough that parents can get all their children to their respective campuses. They’re evidence it is possible; let’s take a page out of their book and do so as well.

I mean, they’re the only ones who are getting enough sleep.

And yes, it is true that we have athletics and other after-school activities that share locations, and that run late as is. Push school back later and the question of early morning practices rears its ugly head, which seems counter-intuitive to the goal of the start-time change.

But to propose a counter question: If, with the start time change, a small percentage of the student population would have to wake up at the exact same time they do now, and the rest of the students have a healthier sleep schedule, is that any reason to avoid implementing the change? Some students are in the same position; the vast majority, better off.

It is not ideal, and with the hustle and bustle of scheduling and alternative locations we should aim to find a solution that does not cut into anyone’s nightly or morning routine. Meanwhile, by keeping our current schedule we ensure that all students, all year try to live and learn whilst sleep-deprived.

We have no choice but to fight our inherent biology, and no surprise, biology’s winning.