There is a certain meme circulating the depths of the Internet with which, by now, many McGillians should be quite familiar. It depicts a triangular model whose vertices point to certain generalizations about college life. “Good grades. Social life. Enough sleep. Pick two!” Though some may not find that their experiences required such a trade-off, the joke resonates with students precisely because the lack of sleep is a real problem—for students everywhere. A good night’s sleep is often difficult to come by, made scarce by late nights, piling workloads, and early morning classes.
In fact, sleep has become such a concern for students, that McGill-based researchers have recommended a delayed start to classes to allow more time for it. Their findings reaffirm what had been concluded in prior studies—that later start times improve the academic performance of students. The consensus is this: Later start times for high-school age students would result in an appropriate sleep threshold for growing teenagers—around eight to nine hours. Better-rested students would in turn make for less anxious and better-off students. But would delaying morning starts actually work for older students at McGill? Despite the ire which morning classes can draw, they deserve students’ consideration before being put on the chopping block. And there are a few reasons why students would miss 8:35 starts more than one would think.
We should consider that the studies mentioned above focus primarily on the experiences of teenagers—or high-school-aged students—whose experiences do not necessarily reflect the sleep habits of college students. One point of consensus is that the recommendation for eight to nine hours corresponds to the progression of adolescent circadian cycles, or sleep-wake patterns over a 24-hour period. The tendency to stay up later and to sleep in later, in other words, is a natural phenomenon for teens, which should be accounted for by later mornings. That sort of reasoning translates well to high schools in North America, whose students are still undergoing pubescent changes. However, the lack of sleep for students at the university level cannot be resolved so easily.
There are two possible outcomes to implementing a delayed morning start time: Either the university would make up for lost time by adding an hour of scheduled classes later in the day, or it would decide to do away with early 8:35 classes without replacing them. In the former case, the standard end to the day would be pushed back by an hour or even more. In the latter case, the outcome would be that an entire array of courses are cut from the curriculum altogether, since there would be no way to fit them into a shortened schedule. If considered logistically, the apparent solution to our initial problem of lack of sleep—prolonging the morning start time—is to either prolong one’s entire school day or to reduce a number of courses which would otherwise have been offered.
For those reasons, those who feel that their sleep is being disrupted by the demands of morning classes should not rush to immediately advocate their removal from the schedule. Instead, students should advocate that morning classes be recorded and made available online as a standard practice. Doing something as simple as that could curb the conundrum for many students, without forcing a drastic measure such as delaying the start of classes.
One need not be a morning person to see the standard start time at McGill for what it is: Sensible. That is not to say that the struggles of those who must choose between more sleep and morning attendance are not real. Addressing the problem, however, should not involve cutting an entire hour of class from a system which has functioned well thus far.