Sleep vs. School


All people need enough sleep to live their healthiest, happiest lives—teenagers especially. With all the obligations Latin high schoolers have, getting the optimum hours of zzzzz’s is aspirational. One easy fix is to start school later in the morning. I propose that Latin eliminate the 90-minute “long block,” commencing with the 2023-24 school year.

Upper school counselor Jane Knoche recognizes the importance of getting enough sleep. “Sleep plays a vital role in your mental health, physical health, and quality of life. The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on your sleep habits.”

Getting enough sleep is a priority that Ms. Knoche, along with the rest of Latin’s teachers and counselors, often emphasizes in promoting wellness. The constant refrain students have heard about healthy sleep habits is for good reason. Study after study has shown that sleep, like exercise, is essential for physical and mental health and for productivity and learning. Latin’s start time is too early to ensure a basic level of rest for its students. Latin would never skimp on P.E. or sports requirements, nor on making sure students know how to write well. Latin is cutting corners on making sure students get enough sleep.

While it is well known that adults need at least eight hours of sleep, teenagers need more. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seven out of 10 high schoolers do not get enough sleep, and according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, teens need nine to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep per night.

According to the CDC, “One of the reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need, but most American adolescents start school too early.”

I am proposing Latin start at 8:40 a.m.

For senior Brandon Shiffman, moving back the start time would provide more benefits than just sleep. “I think starting school later could greatly benefit the student body. I do not think it just has to do with sleep, either. I personally like to study and meet with teachers in the morning and think that the added time could benefit students.”

Latin can accomplish a significant increase in added rest time without a radical change. Instead of having school start at 8 a.m., 8:25 a.m., or 8:45 a.m., shift the start times by 40 minutes, to 8:40 a.m., 9:05 a.m., or 9:25 a.m., and keep everything else the same. Most students will tell you that the extra 40 minutes goes a long way.

“I think it would be beneficial for school to start later, because getting enough sleep is so important,” said sophomore Juliette Katz. “Even when we start at 8:25 vs 8, I notice a difference in my energy. The extra 25 minutes, let alone 45 minutes, is so helpful for me in the mornings. I have more time to get ready for school, and I don’t feel rushed.”

Senior Alena Brandt also notices the benefits of a bit of extra time. “Having school start later makes a huge difference in my energy throughout the day,” Alena said. “I feel substantially more awake and engaged in class during 8:25 a.m. days than 8 a.m. days. Though 25 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, it is actually quite a big deal and makes a difference in how I can focus and learn.”

Consider some not-so-hypothetical time crunch scenarios experienced by many Latin students. For those involved in sports or theater, there are many nights they may not get home until after dinner time. Often a student will have three or four assessments over the following two days and an essay to complete for English or history. This doesn’t even consider the essay-palooza that seniors are dealing with for college applications.

If you’re efficient, you get dinner quickly, shower, and maybe say two or three words to your parents, who want to hear about your day or convince you to walk the dog. Then it’s time to study for all those assessments and then crisply and critically write an essay, all by 11:30 p.m., to have even any hope of getting seven-ish hours of sleep before a club meeting at 7:30 a.m. That is, if you quickly shut down your laptop and get your clothes and bag ready. If you run behind, you can always just set your alarm for 7 a.m., grab a GoGo Squeez, and hightail it to your meeting from a deep sleep in 30 minutes (I’ve been there!).

But if long block is eliminated, then those same students getting home after dinner would have an extra 40 minutes, because their dreaded 7:30 a.m. meeting is now at 8:10 a.m. (because class doesn’t start until 8:40 a.m.).

Of course there is the fear that those 40 minutes would go to squandered time to watch football, play video games, or be on social media. This later start proposal includes nothing else. It’s not like proposing that school sports start later so meetings can happen after school, because that just takes the 40 minutes and puts it somewhere else. This 40 minutes is a direct give back. If 40 minutes of the school day are eliminated, there is a decent chance that time will go to desperately needed sleep.

Upper School Dean Nick Baer weighed in as well. “I think the concern among a lot of teachers would be the loss of teaching time,” said Mr. Baer. “We already tend to sacrifice a lot of instructional hours throughout the year, and this would add significantly to that, not to mention the issue of finding time for science labs, longer group simulations, etc. I do agree that starting the day later would benefit students on the whole, but it’s not an easy fix!”

Mr. Baer’s concerns must be acknowledged. Latin can’t lightly chop off 40 minutes of school multiplied by every school day of the year. Latin is trying to squeeze enough learning in, just as students each evening are trying to squeeze everything in. But ultimately you can’t trade your health.

In the interest of full disclosure, the idea to eliminate long block was the brainchild of senior Spencer Stein. “Sleep is a crucial factor in my learning capabilities and I have trouble focusing during the first 30 minutes of long block,” Spencer said. “If it became a regular 50-minute class, it would be more productive.”

And for those stubborn night owls who want to get five hours of sleep because they really want to binge watch “Breaking Bad” all night, this change will make it five hours and 40 minutes, which is still better than five.

Also, not only are students rubbing their eyes when they walk into school from that deep sleep, but long block, as the name suggests, is long. It’s hard enough to sit for 50 minutes when you’re tired. Senior Luke Parr said, “I personally have a hard time sitting still and focusing for an hour and a half.”

“If we started the day with 50-minute blocks,” Luke added, “I would be able to start the day much better rested and pay better attention during the first period.”

It’s long past time to do away with long block.