It’s that time of year again, at least if you’re in these countries. Daylight Savings day is upon us. It’s not a holiday, nor a means for major celebration. It just means that this weekend, we can all look forward to an extra hour of sleep.
Honestly, after the year we’ve all endured, an extra hour of sleep is literally the least we can hope for. I’ll gladly take it.
Now, I don’t have an opinion on daylight savings, why it’s observed, or whether we should continue observing it. That sort of contention is just not worth my time or anyone else’s. Instead, I’d like to take a moment in these last few days before we fall back to share another personal story.
It involves high school, but I promise it’s not nearly as awkward or angst-ridden as some of the others I’ve shared. This story is more an observation than a personal account and one I think is more relevant. Say what you will about teenagers and young people in this current environment. They do have issues and they’re worth highlighting.
To appreciate this story, I need to offer a little context. While I was in high school, the last week of October was uniquely difficult. It wasn’t just because the weather was getting colder, mid-terms had just wrapped up, and the holidays were still too far off to warrant excitement. Much of the difficulty, in this case, had to do with sleep.
It wasn’t so much about getting enough of it, which is a challenge in its own right, as it was about waking up. I lived in a school district where high school classes started at 7:20 a.m. If you weren’t in your first period class by that time, you were late and you could get in trouble. That might not have been an issue if you lived nearby. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that lucky.
My family lived on the boundaries of the school district. That meant I had to take the bus to school, which wasn’t too big a deal. However, in order to get to school on time, the bus had to pick me and my classmates at 6:30 a.m. to make it on time.
Now, I know some people are already rolling their eyes. We had to be at the bus stop by 6:30 in the morning. Why is that such a big deal? There are people with jobs that require they wake up even earlier.
To those people, I have a simple message.
First off, we don’t get paid to go to high school. We’re forced to, by law. Second, we were teenagers. We’re not exactly used to night shifts at the salt mines. We’re still going through puberty, trying to transition into adulthood, and dealing with plenty of awkward feelings along the way. Have some goddamn sympathy.
With that in mind, take a moment to appreciate what it’s like the week before we fall back with daylight savings. You wake up at 6:00 a.m. and it’s still nearly pitch black outside. You can still see stars in the sky. You can barely see any hint of the sun.
If you’re a functional adult who is used to early mornings, it’s no big deal. If you’re a teenager who’s several steps away from being that functional, the world is basically asking us why the hell we aren’t still sleeping. Our collective response is the same. We have no choice. This is what we have to do, by law, to get to school on time.
Make no mistake. Waking up this early and standing outside when it’s still dark out is jarring to a teenager’s mind and body. The last week of October was just the most pronounced. During the first weeks of school, you could at least depend on the sun coming up, which helped wake you up. By this time, however, you had no such benefit. It was still dark out and it stayed dark until you got to school.
This is where my story comes into play. It’s not just one particular incident on one particular day, either. For the entirety of my high school career, this sort of thing played out every year on the last week of October. If I were to catch up with my old classmates, they’d probably share the same sentiment.
It went like this.
We wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school. It’s pitch black out.
We take a shower, eat some breakfast, and gather our things. It’s still pitch black out.
We go out to the bus stop at about 6:25 a.m. It’s still pitch black out.
The bus arrives, we get on, and we settle in for the ride. It’s still pitch black out.
For the entire trip, we’re all only half-awake. Nobody talks. Nobody socializes. We just sit there, try to keep our eyes open, and get whatever sliver of rest we can before we arrive. Most of the time, the sun is just barely starting to rise when we get to school.
I know it’s not the most harrowing story about high school, but it does stand out and it wouldn’t be at all possible without daylight savings. It’s because of that time shift that it’s still so dark out in the morning on that final week leading up to it. An adult may see that as a trivial detail, but from the perspective of tired teenage minds, I assure you it isn’t.
I try to forget a lot of things from that time in my life. I’ll never forget those early morning bus rides on the last week of October. They always had this strange, ominous feel to them. Setting aside the ambience, the impact it had on me and the rest of my classmates was distinct.
Being out at that bus stop when it was still so dark and riding to school before the sun came up just put everyone in a drowsy, lethargic mood. Riding to school in that environment wasn’t just quiet. It was dead silent at time.
Nobody said a word.
Nobody talked, socialized, or screwed around.
It was just too dark and we were all too tired. You think packing a bunch of teenagers in a bus is bound to create something rowdy and decadent? Well, when it’s that dark out and that early in the morning, you don’t have to worry. When you’re still tired, you’re not going to have the energy.
Now, that did change to an extent the following week. Once we set the clocks back, there’s usually daylight outside when we go to the bus stop. That does make a difference. In fact, it makes a big difference. There’s even some science behind it.
I was still a miserable high school student, but at least it easier to stay awake when the sun was out. I also noticed that once we had some sunlight, people talked and socialized more on the bus. It was just less depressing overall. Being less tired will have that effect.
In hindsight, I’m amazed that we all functioned as well as we did in those conditions. The science is also catching up to the sentiment. More and more people are uncovering the negative effects of having high school start so early. Teenagers may be immature and dumb at times, but they’re still human. If they don’t get enough sleep, they’re not going to function well.
A lack of sleep has all sorts of negative impacts. Add the rigors of adolescence to the mix and you’re just going to make both much worse. It’s something I find myself contemplating every year in the days leading up to daylight savings.
We have a lot of problems in this world and teenagers have a lot to deal with. Nobody can do much of anything if they’re too tired or sleep deprived.