Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation Due to School Start Times

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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Category: Adolescence
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The two reasons people sleep include restoration and preservation, that is why sleep is crucial for a persons health and well-being. School is starting to early for adolescents which is leading them to have many mental problems. Adolescents and young adults are more vulnerable to these negative effects because they are going through a major life transition, they are experiencing a large amount of brain development and growth around this time (Wahlstrom, 2003). Some adverse effects of sleep deprivation include impaired cognition, performance, and alertness, which can affect their performance at school and it also puts them at higher risk for accidents (Carter, Chopak-Foss, and Punungwe, 2016).

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Sleep deprivation only occurs in schools that began before 8:15 in the morning (Wahlstrom, 2003). However, The average start time for high schools in the US is 8:00 am but many children health organizations suggest a start time of 8:40 am to improve adolescent sleep patterns. In fact, the lowest start time was 7:42 am in Delaware. (Rettner, 2015). However when looking at the US as a whole 9.5% of public schools start before 7:30 am, 33% start between 7:30 am and 7:59 am, and 43.1% start between 8:30 am and 8:29 am. This means that 85.6% of schools start before the recommended time. It is also important to note that there could be other variables affecting this research, as students may spend to much time on their phones or devices which could also have an effect on their sleep patterns. This is because cell phones are now fully integrated into our daily lives, unlike phones years ago (Peters, 2008).

One of the sleep stages people experience is called REM sleep, REM standing for rapid eye movement. This type of sleep is different from all the other forms of sleep, as sometimes all the other stages are just referred to as non-REM sleep. It is different because of how active the brain is during this stage, you can see how active the brain is by using an electroencephalogram (EEG) (Peters, 2018). An EEG simply measures your brain waves (Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). This REM sleep has proven to be vital for problem solving, memory, and learning. This is why the lack of it may lead to some bad side effects. The lack of REM sleep may result in the inability to learn new things as well as they could before (Tuck Sleep, 2019). It also ends up reducing cell proliferation, which is a process that increases the number of cells in your body and is defined by the equity cell lose and cell division (Peters, 2018).

Outside of REM sleep, sleep deprivation in general can lead to anxiety, irritability, and depression. It has been said that sleep problems can lead to anxiety disorders. One example is that people with sleep insomnia are at the highest risks of having anxiety disorders or mood disorders (ADAA, n.d.). Sleep can lead to depression and irritability because the lack of it influences your outlook on life, motivation, and energy levels. In many studies it has been proven that there is a high correlation between sleep and mood (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). It must also be noted that this is a complex issue as depression and anxiety can both cause sleep deprivation and be an effect of it.

When lacking in any stage of sleep schools can began to notice a drop in grades and attendance. This is because sleep deprivation can lead to the lack of creativity and the inability to complete complex tasks (Wahlstrom, 2003). With a change to a schools start time, attendance would improve as proven in the study from Later High-School Start Times Still Working (Wahlstrom, 2003). Ultimately, sleep deprivation will have an uncontrollable impact on a student until a later start time is implemented. As the start time leads to an ability to learn and an inability to complete the tasks required of the student. Health officials can confirm this as most state that the lack of cognitive abilities leads to the risk of lowered academic success.

Connecting to the previous statement about the lack of cognitive abilities, people can also see an increased risk of accidents. As judgement may be impaired and people tend to not think clearly. Along with this, people who are constantly sleep deprived have higher chances of things such as high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and diabetes. All three can lead to less blood flow to the brain and the brain needs alot of oxygen and sugar to properly work. When the brain does not have what it needs it may cause the person to have an inability to function the way that they normally would (LeWine, 2015).

Although all the research leads to the same conclusion that school should just start later, there are many reasons why this is difficult for schools to do. Schools have to consider bus-routes, teacher work time preferences, and after-school activities. It’s made evident that students are not the only ones who are affected by a schools start time. Parents can become affected in many ways too. Therefore, in many districts whenever they adjusted the start time they began to get alot of resistance from parents.

The simple way to solve this problem is to have schools start later, however, this is very hard to do considering the counter arguments stated. So some alternative solutions include parents promoting and modeling set bedtimes and rise times. Parents can also implement a time for technology use to be minimalized, because studies show that technology can also contribute to later bedtimes. School officials can also make it a priority to research this topic to make themselves more aware of the issue, so that hopefully a change can soon be implemented in schools. Lastly health care professionals can continue to emphasize how important adequate sleep is.

In conclusion, sleep is crucial for adolescents and can lead to academic failure. Schools exist to help students establish fundamental skills in many topics and can also help with job preparation. However, a schools start time causes students to be unable to complete the tasks that are required of them. This is the current dilemma that school districts face. It is extremely difficult for school start times to be changed, therefore, changes must be implemented at home to ensure good sleep until a change can be made. Parents and Health care officials must began to focus more on a students sleep cycle for their mental and physical well-being.  

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Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation Due To School Start Times. (2021, Mar 22). Retrieved from