Like so many other people, my least favourite sound is that of my alarm clock going off at twenty five past six in the morning; a time when no rational human being could ever possibly want to be awake. Never does my bed feel as deliciously warm and enveloping as when I know I have to get out of it; and never do I feel more like ‘The Princess and the Pea’ than when I know I have to get to sleep.
My problem is not uncommon, in fact it is experienced by practically every teenager and the roots of our troubles are purely biological. Feelings of drowsiness are induced by the hormone ‘melatonin’ which teenagers do not produce until three hours after younger children or adults do, thereby meaning, as said in the New Scientist, that: ‘teenagers are biologically incapable of going to bed at a sensible time.’
A teenager needs nine and a quarter hours sleep a day. While it is not realistic to suppose that the average teenager actually gets this much sleep on a daily basis, having significantly less sleep than this can worsen academic performance, lead to grumpiness and irritability and weaken the immune system. Would starting the school day later combat these problems? Experiments have shown, certainly in relation to academic performance, that the answer would be yes. Results from a recent study conducted by Oxford University were quite astonishing. They trialled 32,000 GCSE students in over 100 schools and found that starting the school day later significantly improved GCSE results. In a school in North Tyneside, Newcastle, the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs rose from 34% to 50%.
Not only this, but more sleep would significantly improve the immune system, which would increase school attendance. I do not think that I speak alone when I say that there is nothing more miserable than going down with a cold or flu in the middle of the school term.
However, as wonderful as starting the school day later may seem, is it really practical?
Quite simply, no. If the school day began one hour and thirty five minutes later, it would have to end one hour and thirty five minutes later. Thus the school day would end at, say, 5:30 instead of 3:55. This would create numerous problems and raises the question would any gains actually be made by starting the school day later?
If the school day ended later, students would get home later, they would start and finish their homework later and, as a result of this, would go to sleep later. Therefore, they would get no more sleep than if school started at 8:25 and so would be no less tired at school the next day. On the other hand, since teenager’s brains do not begin to properly function until later in the morning, no matter how much sleep they are getting, perhaps it would still be advantageous.
Even so, finishing later would leave very little, if any at all, time for after school extra-curricular activities. And if we just started at 10 o’clock and finished at normal time, approximately 170 hours of valuable lesson time would be lost per year.
So, although I solemnly wish my verdict was otherwise, starting the school day later is simply not practical. Although it could improve academic performance, reduce the number of grumpy and irritable teenagers and increase immunity, there are not enough hours in the day for it to be really worthwhile.
By Rose Grossel