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It's High Time That Schools Started at the Right Time

The early bird catches the worm... but why is it so hard to catch that early morning bus to school? If you agree with the fact that schools need not start so close to sunrise, then read further to find out why late school start times will actually benefit high school students.

Why does every student have a sleepy schooltime story? Either we’ve slept through history class or we’ve slept through our screaming alarm and gotten our names on the absentees’ list. I mean, what’s the fun in setting just 1 alarm, when you can set 6 alarms (each one just 5 minutes apart) and snooze all of them as many times as possible until the stern “HAVE YOU WOKEN UP YET??”, echoes through the halls. Getting up and getting to school every morning, at what seems like an ungodly hour, is truly the hardest task that has dawned upon teenage-kind.

Why do schools start so early anyway? "Most of us sleep through the first 4 periods… it's only after recess that things get lively", complained Rayhana, a fellow despiser of early school hours. "I am half asleep when I walk into class... and when the teacher says 'velocity', my brain decides to fully shut down" added Katheeja, another victim of early alarm atrocities. It cannot be denied that these stories resonate with all of us teenagers.

Why don’t schools start at a later hour? A change we all want, but isn’t brought about. Sleepy and unable to take in information we sit through the day, nodding our heads meaninglessly, as the exhaustion piles up. By the time the final bell rings, we’ve neither learned anything nor do we have eyes that aren’t red from sleep deprivation. Majority of the high schools in India start between 7:30-8:30; thus, buses become beds and the blackboards turn blurry.

Can we change that?

“Why not just sleep early and beat the tiredness?”

“Why do you want school times to change when you can change your routine?”

Despite having heard these from every teacher and every aunty in the neighborhood, the answer for “what time did you fall asleep last night?” is almost always an hour past the stroke of midnight. No matter how hard we try, our brains decide to be productive and fully awake only in the darkest hours of the night. Why can’t we sleep early?

All these 'why's lead me to a trove of wisdom, a book, called “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker. In his book, Mr. Walker talks about the circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our body’s internal clock. He explains that during teenage, an individual’s circadian rhythm undergoes a dramatic shift. This means that a teen’s biological clock recognizes times around 1-3am as bedtime and 8-10am as the start of wakefulness. This is in no way a conscious decision and happens to almost every teenager around the world. Even if they try to fall asleep earlier, they will end up rolling around in the bed until their body decides to stop counting sheep.

For most highschoolers, waking up around 6 or 7 am is essential to reach school on time, and this disrupts the quality and duration of sleep they get. “My irregular sleep schedule has left me with mental and physical health issues”, said my classmate, Jhanavi, rubbing her eyes, “Concentrating in class becomes a trying task due to the same, and I find it very difficult to absorb information effectively”. Her story speaks to us all, doesn’t it?

Research shows that cutting short your night-time slumber, reduces the amount of Non-REM sleep that you get. Non-REM sleep is one of the two main stages of sleep, the other being REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During teenage, Non-REM sleep is absolutely essential, as it is during this time that your brain rearranges its neural networks and refines different parts of your brain such as your decision making and critical thinking centers, to prepare you for adulthood. When Non-REM sleep is cut short, the development and advancement of a teenager’s brain capacity is obstructed, thus resulting in what society calls “moody, immature teens”.

When asked what time they’d like high school to start, all my friends were unanimous in their answer - 10am. A fair time, don't you think? It’s still early in the day and gives room for 6-7 hours of schooling without affecting our sleep schedules.

Sleepy school stories may be fond and funny memories, but their negative impact on our body and mind often goes unnoticed. Rather than trying to change something biologically ingrained in teenagers, is it not better to change the time when the first bell rings?

Rather than trying to mould high school students into clocks that are on rooster time, is it not better to mould schools to provide the best avenues for students to grow and develop into their best selves? Let’s bring about change, for us, for the youth, for the leaders of tomorrow.

Written by Prashanthini Sundar

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