Early to Bed, Late to Rise

It’s just a fact: breath smells bad in the morning. Why else would I be opposed to waking up prematurely, if not to avoid the stench of early morning discussion? It couldn’t be that drowning sensation that comes with pulling myself from my cozy bed nor could it be that lifeless trek from my cozy bed to Commons. No, the only reason I hate mornings is bad breath.

Of course, I’m kidding. When I join the grumpy masses making their way to first period classes, oral hygiene is the least of my concerns. Nevertheless, every morning remains an uphill battle, requiring more energy than I’d like to give. The struggle I experience, as I’m sure others do, leads me to wonder, what impact this daily rude awakening has on us here at Andover? Can it really be healthy to wake up so early?

The short answer is no. A study conducted by Judith Owens, Director of the pediatric sleep clinic Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence R.I., records several positive effects of delaying the start of school. The study was conducted on students at St. George’s School in Newport R.I., a co-ed boarding school with students from several states and foreign countries, roughly a 15 percent day student population and lights-out ranging from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

The start of school time was pushed back from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. from the fall to the winter term during the 2008 school year. Comparatively, students getting at least eight hours of sleep rose from 16.4 percent to 54.7 percent, students reported feeling generally happier, and the instances of students being late or missing their first period class fell by 50 percent.

Several other studies are consistent with these statistics. Another researcher, Kyla Wahlstrom of the University of Minnesota, found that after delaying the start of school by an hour and 20 minutes, students reported less depression, and teachers noted their pupils were better prepared for class. A third study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reaches conclusions similar to the first two studies’ and adds that risk of adolescent auto accidents also decreased. Simply put, more sleep means healthier, happier students.

Why then do we continually allow sleep-deprivation to deteriorate our well-being? There are a variety of answers, but the most prominent appears to be after-school extracurriculars, namely athletics. Shifting school times back has adverse effects on sports teams, especially at a school like Andover where all students are required to participate in some athletic program. With school ending later in the day, there is less time for practices and games, and coaches might have to shorten practices or find other means of making up for the lost time, resulting in poorer athletic performance by the students. Numerous studies show the benefits of athletics in high school. Some even argue an extra hour of practice would be preferable to an extra hour of sleep. So we allow sports practices to take precedence over sleep

How then can we here at Andover conquer this exhaustion problem? While going to school later sounds like the best option, there are less obvious ways to make the most of your downtime. Christine Seymore, a Health and Fitness writer, shares some advice:

“First, limit your bed solely to the purpose of sleeping. When you partake in too much activity, like doing homework or watching television while on your bed, your brain will begin to associate the bed as a place of work. Also, try not to look at the clock as you fall asleep, as this has been found to make it harder to fall asleep. Third, limit eating before you go to bed. If you’re hungry, avoid fatty or heavy foods; rather, snack on granola bars or cereal instead. Finally, take naps. A good nap will make you more productive and put you in a better mood, but avoid exceeding 20 minutes while napping.”

Along with Seymore’s direction, I’m going to add a couple of my own. Number One: stop procrastinating. I know, I know, all the cool kids are doing it. However, if you’re really concerned about getting enough sleep, go get your work done and tuck in as soon as you can. Number Two: brush your teeth, because no one, especially me, wants their already terrible morning ruined by that unfortunate smell.

Mackenzie Schwartz is a two-year lower from Bradford, MA.