The “J” Agenda: Stop sleeping on the positives of online learning

Emma J Nelson, Editor-in-Chief

Let’s be optimistic for a moment; say that it’s Feb. 5, and we’ll actually be returning to in-person schooling momentarily. We already know that it won’t be the same, from everyone wearing a mask to smaller class sizes, but will the changes that needed to be made even before a global pandemic occurred be implemented? Or will we once again have to wake up at 6 a.m. in order to get to school by 8:05 a.m.? Will we have to balance our classes until 3:30 p.m. before going to work for hours, arriving home late to dinner, not making it to bed until 11 p.m., only to realize that our teacher assigned work that’s due tomorrow? Will we be granted the 8+ hours of sleep that we were told in freshman health class that our bodies required, or will we never be allowed that illustrious rest?

I don’t know about you guys, but I have been absolutely loving the opportunity for the extra sleep that has been provided by our online learning schedule. In particular, the ability to wake up at 9:58 a.m. and still make it to class on time has been my saving grace throughout distance learning. When attending classes in person, if I woke up at 7:45 a.m., a perfectly reasonable hour, I would be late to my first period class.

It’s no surprise that those who are well-rested are typically able to perform better than others, especially when it comes to education. One study in particular states that “better quality, longer duration, and greater consistency of sleep correlated with better grades” in college level students. 

Sure, class time has been cut down dramatically to accommodate for those extra three hours, but seeing as the average teenager’s attention span lasts only 48-80 minutes, an hour of class sounds just right. Especially when compared to our previous 90-minute class periods. These changes made to accommodate an online learning system prove that we don’t need to extend the school day further into the evening in order to have students in their seats later in the morning.

Sleep benefits your health in a variety of ways, be it in a physical or mental sense. In the past, lack of sleep has been linked with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Seeing as heart disease is still the number one worldwide killer and diabetes has become one of the top 10 in the past 20 years, taking measures to avoid such chronic health conditions seems like common sense. If we happen to be getting some more rest out of it at the same time, that’d be great. 

Similarly, lack of sleep has been linked with clinical depression. Our generation is no stranger to this; approximately 17 percent of U.S. teens aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017 alone, and that was before COVID-19 was ever a thing. A 2019 analysis of 21 studies found that, not only are sleeping issues a symptom of depression, “people who experience insomnia have a two-fold risk of developing depression over those who do not have problems sleeping.”

Should we really be asking teens, who are already so susceptible to depression, to push themselves further by sacrificing their sleep in order to attend their first period class?

There are some relatively reasonable arguments for the education system’s early wake-up call. The average American works on a “9 to 5” schedule, and by starting classes earlier, the school district ensures that parents can see their children safely to school before their workday begins. While this may seem entirely beneficial to the parent, I personally see it as yet another example of the education system limiting the amount of rest we get as individuals, only now it’s punishing those who are no longer attending classes.

Go back to my imagined-yet-oh-so-real scenario from earlier, but look at it from the parents’ perspective. You need to make sure your child is up at 6 a.m., so you need to wake up even earlier. You can get ready for work at the same time as your kids get ready for school, sure, but you’re expected to drop everything if something goes wrong on their end, all in an effort to get them to class on time. The average one-way commute for Americans from home to work is approximately 26 minutes, so you drop your children off at school by 8 a.m., return home for a brief respite, before leaving for work at 8:30 a.m. to arrive on time. You’re not able to bring your child home from school, as you’re still at work until 5 p.m., so you hope they find their own way. When you get home, they’re at their own job, so you make dinner and set a serving aside for them. From there you stay up until they get home before finally passing out. Ah, rest. Except wait, your child just woke you up because they remembered that their teacher had assigned something that’s due tomorrow and now they’re tired and having a panic attack.

The average adult needs those 8+ hours of sleep, too, and by requiring us to be at school by 8:05 a.m., they’re not getting that. Everything that I mentioned previously about the benefits of good, long sleep for teens? Simply switch “good academic performance” with “good work performance” and you’ll see how a good sleep schedule continues to benefit the individual, whether they be a teen or an adult.

However, my final, and by far most important, reasoning for starting school later in the day comes down to one thing: it feels good. Why can’t we change this just because it feels good? There’s a whole lot of feeling bad right now, and laying in the dark for three extra hours has been a positive light. Don’t give us something that feels good just to snatch it away again when things start to feel better. Do the decent thing, and really sleep on it before making the drastic decision of having us return to classes at 8:05 a.m. once more.

It’s 10 p.m. now; I’m going to bed.