SBC Week 5: Get to school late? It might not be your fault!

I think schools start to early.  I want schools to start later.  But that just wouldn’t make sense, right?  It’s just an idea of a lazy kid who doesn’t like waking up, right?  That’s not what it is though, it could be beneficial to start school later.  Don’t believe me?  I can prove it with science!

Research is showing that our sleeping patterns could be encoded into our DNA.  I have an internal clock; you have one too.  Your clock, however, isn’t necessarily the same as mine.  That’s because we all have a chronotype, or prefered sleeping pattern.

Scientists study chronotypes by tracking when people go to sleep on days when they don’t have to go to work or to school.  The average chronotype is to sleep at around 11 pm and wake up at around 7 am.  If you wake up earlier or later, you might be wake up feeling jet lagged every day.  Even if you only vary a little bit, say you wake up at 8:00, you will still feel the same effects.  

If you have an average sleep schedule, you generally get the same amount of sleep on workdays as free days, but not if you have a different chronotype.  The later your chronotype, though, the more your sleep time on workdays compared to your sleep on free days will vary exponentially more more.  This can make coming back to work or school after a free day feel like travelling through several time zones.  We can’t focus on our work like that, can we?

Your chronotype is controlled by a bundle of nerves in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN.  If you have a normal chronotype, your SCN tells your brain to produce melatonin at around 9:pm which makes you sleepy.  This makes your body colder at 4:30 am, your blood pressure highest at 6:45 am, and will control various other things to help you sleep.  This makes you the most alert at around 10 am.  For everyone else, all this stuff happens later or earlier in the day, and there’s not much they can do about it.  That’s because there are “clock genes” in your SCN.  They produce proteins every 24 hours like a clock.  Although, the SCN is not the only clock in your body, there are all these little clocks, so even a brain surgery to replace your SCN won’t fix your sleep schedule.

People who wake up later have a harder time fitting into society’s schedule, and that’s a problem.  The cells in their bodies just won’t let them.  In one study, researchers took healthy people and messed their sleep schedule up.  After just a few weeks, they showed early signs of diabetes.  People with late chronotypes are also more likely to develop depression or become smokers.  Some of us have been misunderstood as lazy, but it might not be our faults.  This is why making school start lated might really help some students learn and focus in class.  It can even benefit people in a work environment to start later if they start too early.

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