School starting later in the morning isn’t the answer; healthier living is.
Sleep disorders are an epidemic in our culture. Later school start times can undermine students’ long-term physical, emotional, academic, and financial health and success.
The human “body clock” is tied to natural cycles. Decisions to include diet, exercise, sunlight, stress, and pharmaceuticals can all affect our body’s cycles and rhythms. In as little as 4-6 weeks, we can change our body clock just through our habits. Artificial light, such as cellphone, computer, or television screens, entering the eyes late at night can interfere with the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates the day and night sleep cycles of the body. Children are at even greater risk of negative outcomes, because their brains and habits are still forming. Our physical brain grows until our mid-twenties, and neuroplastic development continues all throughout life. Children also have higher levels of the hormone norepinephrine, considered a memory-bonding hormone, which helps account for why they learn so quickly.
Regardless of what time school starts, students should be taught their body clock can often be re-set in either direction. Early morning light (some use “blue light” bulbs or sleep lamps), moving bedtime a half hour earlier over the period of several weeks, regular exercise, proper nutrition, limiting nighttime screen light, monitoring for violent and sexually explicit content in TV, movies, games, and music – all can help promote optimal student development.
Our eyes and ears are the pathways that allow imprinting on the mind and conscience, and are tied to a physiological and emotional response through the release of stimulating and powerful hormones, like the steroid hormone cortisol, testosterone, epinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Triggering some of these hormones under certain circumstances can be especially problematic for students going through puberty, because their hormones are already in overdrive and they don’t yet posses a fully formed frontal lobe (the part of the brain that controls reasoning, decision making, and self-control). The sounds, sights, and multitude of involuntary physiological responses are all part of a symphony of neurons firing together and wiring together. So, prevention, when possible, is always the best cure, along with parents setting a good example.
Solving a problem starts by properly defining it. Our body is made to move. In fact, a lot of students need to move in order to learn. Yet, students spend most of their day sitting at a desk. By high school, many don’t go outside at all. A perfect storm of unhealthy influences can give birth to all sorts of maladies. Sleep problems have long been linked to disease (lowering the immune system and increasing the risk of STDs, cancer, and many others), depression, addiction, eating disorders, and personality disorders. The outcome effects all of society, not just a family. Nature’s light, air, and life is a natural counter-agent; 15 minutes of sunlight, even on a cloudy day, in the morning and afternoon, is a recommended regimen for us all. Nature is a holistic and free antidepressant and mood stabilizer that comes with a whole host of healthy and fun physical, social, emotional, creative, and academic side effects!
The Native Americans have a saying: “We cannot cut off the end of a blanket and sew it on the other end to make it longer.” The latest trends may have some “experts” claiming students are less capable of learning in the morning. But, before we board that ship let’s not forget it was “experts” that built the Titanic.