My teenager has to get up at 5:30am for school. He goes to bed at about 10pm every school night, so he gets a decent amount of sleep. Yet, even though he has always been a morning person, he complains about feeling tired all day, every day, as he has to trudge through the morning darkness and cold to a nearby bus stop. When you look at the science behind teenagers and sleep, his response to his schedule isn’t surprising or unusual. In Daylight Saving Is a Trap, Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright emphasize what we have known from studies for quite a while: teenagers need more sleep, particularly in the morning.
Too-early high-school start times already make healthy sleep difficult for teens, given this natural delay. The darker it is in the morning and the sunnier it is later in the day, the harder it is for them to get to bed on time. The result is shortened sleep, an increase in accidents, and a higher risk of depression.
As we cast about for reasons why kids are at increasing risk for mental health problems, as if we had no clues, we seem to be missing this obvious causal link. I nearly failed my second period chemistry class my junior year of high school. I just couldn’t stay awake. My teacher let me know it was a kindness that he was transferring me with a D. My grades improved dramatically in college, when I could take classes at reasonable times.
As the Senate passes the “Protect The Sunshine” act, it will get worse for our high school youth. They will be even more bleary-eyed and tired in the morning during the winter. It feels like we are systematically putting unnecessary barriers in front of our kids.