Up all night
Students aren’t getting enough sleep, and it’s affecting how they learn.
November 6, 2018
As the sun reaches over the horizon at the crack of dawn, most people are just starting to wake up and contemplate the day ahead of them.
But for junior Iris Michael, the morning is already in full swing.
Sleep comes last
Michael is a member of String Ensemble, which requires her to be in school, ready to practice, at 6:50 a.m. She isn’t the only one in the building at this hour, either.
At 6:45 a.m., junior Avery Griffin can sometimes be found in the Salvi Arena, running sound checks for masses or assemblies.
After school, neither goes home to relax. Instead, they both head to the auditorium to get straight to work. As members of the tech crew, Griffin and Michael need to stay after school until 6:30 PM in preparation for the fall play.
Between extracurriculars, homework, and social lives, there quite literally aren’t enough hours in the day for the girls to attend to all their commitments. Something’s got to give.
And more times than not, that something is sleep.
Griffin and Michael are just two examples of the many students who report not getting enough rest.
“I usually stay up until 11 or 12 trying to finish all my homework,” Michael said, “But every now and then, it ends up being later. There are some nights where I’ll only get four hours of sleep.”
Griffin agreed with Michael, citing her own experience.
“Homework keeps me up pretty late too,” she said. “But I try to make sure I get at least six hours. I’ll be dead, otherwise.”
Both girls said that on average, they usually sleep six hours a night. But according to school psychologist Heather Bloomberg, that isn’t enough.
“For most people, especially teenagers, seven to eight hours is a healthy amount,” Bloomberg said. “Get any less than that, and you won’t be able to focus. Not getting enough sleep can have an impact on learning.”
Michael and Griffin know this far too well.
“There are days where I’ll just space out for entire class periods because I’m so tired,” Michael said.
Griffin agreed, and even offered some humor on the subject. “I know it’s a problem. But it’s such a regular thing that questioning how healthy my sleeping habits are is almost funny. Like, yeah. Of course I’m exhausted. What about it?”
Healthy sleep = mental health
These aren’t isolated cases, either. Bloomberg reported having talked to several students with experiences similar to those of Griffin and Michael.
“Sometimes, I’ll be talking to a student, and they’ll be so tired that they just won’t process anything I’m saying,” Bloomberg said. “The conversation won’t even be about academics. I’ll just be asking them questions about what’s going on, and they’ll stare back at me blankly. It goes in one ear and out the other.”
Bloomberg also said that a healthy sleep schedule is crucial to mental health, and by extension, academic success.
“Without sleep, it becomes very hard to keep your mental health stable. You can become stressed out, which can have an effect on your ability to focus in class,” Bloomberg said.
Dr. Donna Jenkins, a medical practitioner of 30 years, offered an opinion similar to Bloomberg’s, and even went as far as saying that the widespread lack of sleep among teenagers is a likely contributor to America’s mental health crisis.
“There are a lot of civilians who blame our nation’s mental health problem on stuff like misdiagnosis, the next generation being overly coddled, or our country becoming too sensitive,” Jenkins said. “But personally, I think a lot of it might have to do with not getting enough sleep.”
She explained that higher expectations set by schools and parents are leading to students staying up later in pursuit of success.
“We’re pushing kids today harder than ever to get good grades and make it into these high-ranking colleges. I don’t remember the pressure being anywhere near that intense when I was a teenager,” Jenkins said. “Students today have a lot less time to dedicate towards being well rested, and that really takes a toll on all parts of the human body.”
Jenkins and Bloomberg also both said that it’s important for students to make adjustments to their schedules in order to meet the seven to eight hour quota. Bloomberg recommended focusing on time management.
“I know it’s hard, especially with how much homework some students receive, but splitting it up day by day is really important,” Bloomberg said. “Procrastination is a big factor as to why students are pulling all nighters.”
Jenkins advised that students consider limiting extracurriculars, which can be beneficial as well.
“Try to limit yourself to two or three after-school activities at a time,” Jenkins said. “Doing more than that gets overwhelming pretty quickly.”
According to Jenkins, the most important part of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is being able to admit when something is too much to handle.
“It’s okay to admit that a class is too hard or a club is taking too much of your time,” Jenkins said. “Communicate with your teachers and advisors. Most of them will be willing to work with you to reach a healthy compromise.”
Her last word of advice to overworked students is a gentle reminder:
“Your mental health is more important than a test grade or a presentation. Getting even just a few hours of sleep is always better than studying all night. You’re worth it. I promise.”