Are You Tired?

As the end of quarter approaches, classes heat up with last minute quizzes and exams, and extracurriculars intensify, prioritizing what’s important can become more and more difficult. Sleep is sometimes the first to go. But even in calmer times, when the only thing keeping you up is the debate between watching another hour of Lost or staying awake in first period, sleep loss is a real issue in American high schools. Part of it has to do with our body’s chemistry — due to delayed melatonin, teenagers take longer to fall asleep than young children or adults.

In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement urging American high schools to start at 8:30 or later as a way to curb chronic sleep deprivation among teenagers, which can increase obesity and decrease attention span. Most of us appreciate our Wednesday late days — they let us catch up on sleep or work, and give us the jumpstart we need to get through the second half of the week. But extending late arrival to other days isn’t feasible with the current Upper School schedule.

Though it was discussed casually two years ago when the schedule changed, a shortened schedule wouldn’t work without cutting back on classes or pushing the dismissal time later. Though junior Zainab Hageldain commutes at least an hour every morning, she doesn’t want the schedule changed. “I do not want to be here until four. So I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” Senior Pascal Dafinis, who also has a long commute to school every morning, agreed. “All my friends get out at two. If you’re a Miami Country Day student in an activity, you’re getting out at five o’clock. I don’t care if it’s Chess Club or swimming or whatever. Other public schools get out at two thirty and have practice for an hour and they’re home, done. But here when you get home at six or later… Pushing the day back even later makes me fear that the administration is going to push the end time back and school’s going to be until four thirty. That’s not solving anything.”

Though a later start was the action recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, other solutions have been proposed, including brighter classroom lighting, more natural classroom lighting (less fluorescents early in the morning), no first period exams, days in health class which would focus solely on maintaining “sleep health,” and even designated nap rooms. “Classroom lighting is left mostly at the discretion of the teacher and their style,” said Upper School Director Mr. Turf. “But we have changed it in some of the classrooms and the outdoor lighting is different. Unfortunately, designated nap rooms and times are unfeasible, though in an ideal world that sounds nice. Some students certainly use their free periods as a nap time in the library… Exams are at the discretion of the teacher as well, though our blocked scheduling tries to accommodate all learning types and vary the testing time. Ultimately, though, I would hope that the teacher would try not to always test at the same time.”

A solution more specific to Country Day would be a small expansion of senior privileges. Seniors who have a free period during their first track are allowed to skip advisory and arrive late. But sleep deprivation affects underclassmen and Juniors just as often, and everyone could benefit from an extra hour of sleep. “Sleep is coming secondary to homework and that’s a huge issue. Sophomore and Juniors sometimes work just as hard… I need sleep to survive but right now that’s not working out too well.” said junior Emma Rodriguez. “It’s just that I’m up past midnight most nights, and once the clock hits 1am my work stops being about quality and becomes just about completion so I can finally go to sleep.”

Earlier this year, some South Florida high schools were considering pushing back their schedules to accommodate for the new study. It was proposed in September that a few public schools in Dade county would institute a pilot program to test later start times. If successful, it could be expanded permanently to include a lot of the high schools we compete with athletically. But little appears to have happened on that front at the moment.

It’s unlikely that the schedule will change in any significant way. It would push back after school activities, and MCDS would run out of sync with other private schools in the Miami area – resulting in more missed classes for athletes who already have to leave early to make it to competitions. But with schoolwork intensifying and sleep deprivation becoming a growing issue among the student population, other solutions might provide some relief.