The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that middle schools and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Seniors at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, participants of the KERA Yearbook Project, had a lot to say about how hard it is to get enough sleep as a teenager.
“If I could just get more sleep at night, my performance in school would be better,” said Daphne Zuniga. She wrote an essay about sleeping for her A/V class, and read it out loud to her class as they nodded in agreement.
“I would be awake, officially awake, and not just half awake. My attitude towards things would change, and I wouldn’t think school is such a drag,” she said.
Zuniga says she goes to bed around midnight and wakes up at 7:15. She’s one of the lucky ones: Most teens are getting five hours a night, especially if the first bells at school ring at 7:30 in the morning.
Sacrificing sleep for the academic load
“Hardworking students know that there are some things that have to be sacrificed in order to succeed, including television, hanging out with friends, and even sleep,” Kevin Nguyen wrote.
Nguyen says he is assigned up to six hours of homework a night as he races to finish high school and apply for colleges. Skipping sleep is a sign of being on the right track, a badge of honor.
“Since I am currently taking three A.P. classes, I know what it feels like for my brain to be overrun with different schedules. I could spend my nights completing homework and studying for exams, but even that is not enough to complete my tasks,“ he said.
Add a job, family chores, dinner, and afterschool activities into the mix, and many kids decide they’ll just have to sleep on the weekends or over the summer.
Fighting Mother Nature in trying to get to sleep
The most powerful factor working against teenagers trying to sleep is their own biology. The natural adolescent sleep cycle makes it so they actually can't fall asleep before 11 p.m.
Gerardo Orona said he will sometimes lie awake in bed wide until the wee hours. Luckily, his school doesn't start until 9 a.m.
“I have tried to get more sleep before, mostly because of my parents trying to convince me that getting more sleep is better for me, but it only made me feel more tired than I normally would,” he said.
Some of the kids said their parents try to cut off the internet in their houses to get them off messaging apps like Snapchat and Kik after midnight.
“I can actually go to sleep at 2 am and wake up at 6:30 a.m., and function perfectly fine. I can go about my daily tasks without feeling fatigued,” he wrote in his essay.
Sleep research shows enormous risks in skipping sleep
According to research cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics, losing sleep night after night can cause has many negative effects on teenagers, including depression, risk-taking, and obesity.
School districts across the country have recently moved back high school start times in response, including in Plano, Dallas, Frisco, and Richardson. Garland is now thinking about it. Many districts have seen academic results improve since starting high school later, and some in Wyoming and Kentucky reported fewer car crashes with 16- to 18-year-olds.
Even as the momentum builds for later school start times, the essays from Dubiski Career High School show that teenagers are still quite proud of their reputation as overstressed, impulsive, and invincible lay-abouts.