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Why Can't Teens Wake Up Early For School?

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We all know the stereotypes. If you’re up early, you’re a go-getter. If you sleep in, you’re lazy. But how much control do you REALLY have over when you go to bed and when you wake up? And why are teens notorious for sleeping in?

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In the US, over 80% of public schools start before 8:30AM. Because school starts so early, most students aren’t getting the 8.5 hours of sleep that most doctors recommend. You might think a simple solution is for students to simply go to bed earlier. But in reality, sleep is largely dictated by your genes. Inside all mammals is a tiny region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or the SCN. It’s a bundle of around 20,000 neurons that contains what researchers call CLOCK genes. The SCN is referred to as the body’s master clock, telling the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Sleep researchers refer to your body’s preferred sleep pattern as your chronotype. Your chronotype isn’t set in stone for life, though. It actually shifts as you age. The biggest change happens to teenagers. When puberty hits, the master clock experiences a phase shift. Chronotypes slowly get later and later, hitting maximum lateness by around age 18. So it really is tough for teenagers to make it to those early classes.

But schools aren’t heeding the research. And the reasons why aren’t all that scientific. Most school schedules revolve around the typical 9 to 5 workday of adults, and so there is a general worry that pushing back when school starts will be too disruptive. And there’s also a worry that delaying school start times will hurt school sports. But, a slew of medical groups -- like the CDC, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- all want schools to start BEFORE 8:30am.

What is a chronotype?
A chronotype is essentially your own, personal body clock. It’s what specific times you prefer to sleep.

What are clock genes?
Clock genes are what express your particular chronotype.

SOURCES:
School Start Times For Adolescents
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1697.full.pdf

Chronotypes in the US – Influence of Age and Sex
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178782&type=printable

School Start Times for Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2011–12 School Year
https://www.cdc.gov/mmWR/pdf/wk/mm6430.pdf

Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep
https://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/216538

How School Start Times Affect High-School Athletics
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/04/how-school-start-times-affect-high-school-athletics/522537/

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