Sleep Deprivation Among Students

It’s not uncommon to see students at Lakeside fall asleep in class. Sometimes I catch my own eyes closing as my head nods forward and jump to refocus. Other students told us about how they feel the same way, describing themselves as feeling drowsy, yawning frequently, and sometimes taking a necessary nap during a class. “I fall asleep in third period, it’s been like two weeks straight now.” said senior Taliyaha Montgomery. Most students consider sleep deprivation part of average life as a high schooler “I think they consider it normal. I think Americans in general consider it normal. They think that’s just kind of the way things are. And to a certain degree, they’re right, I mean the way that our society is set up, you really don’t have the opportunity to get as much sleep as you probably need.” said AP Psychology teacher Charles Cass.

Desk for a Pillow

Junior Andrew Seybolt catches up on sleep during his study hall period. For many students sleeping during study hall is the best opportunity for them to cope with their sleep deprivation.

Photo by Hannah Reich

Sleep deprivation describes the physical and mental state of suffering from less than the necessary level of sleep. Teenagers need about eight to ten hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for teens to receive the optimal amount of sleep because their biological sleep patterns shift toward later times during adolescence, making it totally normal for a teen not to be able to fall asleep until 11 or 12pm. This shift combined with early school start times, homework, after school activities, and jobs means students frequently don’t get enough sleep. “I like my schedule because I don’t have to get up early,” said senior Rayna Sklar, who dual enrolls.

As part of Mr. Cass’s AP Psychology class, Montgomery and Sklar recently learned about sleep, specifically sleep deprivation. They fill out sleep diaries that detail the actual hours they sleep each night and during the day. For many in the class, the diaries have brought a greater attention to how few hours they sleep during the week. “I knew I was sleep deprived, I just didn’t know how sleep deprived I was, and how bad it could be for me,” said senior Ariana Manibusan. “I’ve learned that I don’t sleep enough. [Mr. Cass] said that on average if you just flat-out let yourself sleep you’d sleep for about nine hours, and I’m going on like five or six, if I’m lucky, so that’s awful.” said Montgomery.

Pop Quiz?

Many students in AP Psychology were surprised after taking this quiz in class to find that answering true to just one of the questions indicated they were sleep deprived.

Photo by Hannah Reich

This constant lack of sleep not only causes symptoms of drowsiness, but often leads to less visible consequences. Sleep deprivation can cause or contribute to inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy driving accidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide or even suicide attempts, according to a 2015 Stanford Med. study.

Time spent on the internet, phones and TV are possible contributors to the problem. “It’s like you’re doing your homework but you also start to look at your phone,” said freshman Citlali Gervacio when describing causes of her own late nights studying. There are possible solutions to this aspect of the problem, whether it is students not sleeping with their phone charging in their room, easily accessible right before bed, or parents getting involved. “My dad got this thing where he can make the wifi work for him, but not for us. I do not like it,” said sophomore Hope Bradley.

We often look to technology as the root of all problems, especially problems among teenagers. It’s necessary to consider other factors contributing to sleep deprivation that are outside of students’ control. “Academic overload and extracurricular interests that aren’t necessarily academic- partying and staying out late,” AP Literature teacher Garry Saltmarsh said may be possible causes of students getting an inadequate amount of sleep. Schoolwork can be overwhelming to students, and many consider the time they spend on homework each night as the main cause of their sleep deprivation. “I’m not really sure that giving all of this work at home--it makes them stay up till I don’t know what hour-- on top of all their extracurriculars, is really helping them. I think it’s actually counterproductive.” said French teacher Ashley Blackwood.

Although schools in 45 states have pushed their start times back to fall in line with research that looks at the biological clock of adolescents, school boards are still reluctant to make the switch due to concerns about transportation scheduling. The leader of the Rand Corporation study, however, said that the increase in high school graduation rates and decreases in obesity and car crash risk due to sleeplessness should more than make up for the hassle of implementing a policy that requires all schools to start no earlier than 8:30. Some schools have even implemented a later start times in schools beginning between 10 and 11 AM, and follow-up studies have shown that it does help teens get the extra hour or two that they need to improve school attendance and academic performance. Current school start times in DeKalb County are staggered according to what is called “The Three Tier Program”. Elementary school starts earliest at 7:45 or 8:00 depending on the school, high school starts at 8:10, and middle school starts at 8:50, according to DeKalb County’s website. “I think really you should flip middle school and high school. It would make more sense to me...all the studies indicate that teenagers do better if they get a later start.” said Cass. This offers a possible solution that wouldn’t significantly change the structure of the day, but also offer students a schedule that fits their adolescent body clocks. The change could not only benefit students but could also save the country approximately $9 billion a year due to increased academic performance and thus greater lifetime earnings, as well as reduced car crashes among sleepy teen drivers.

It’s certainly not a perfect solution, considering the contribution of technology and extracurriculars to students’ sleep deprivation. “My question would be, with what I know about teenagers, having taught them for many years and having had a couple of my own, if you started school later, does that mean that they’re still gonna go to bed at midnight, or does that just give them the opportunity to stay up a little bit later?” said Cass. It’s impossible to say what the answer to that would be, but due to the success in other schools and the magnitude of the problem at Lakeside, it’s worth an attempt to change. Switching to a later start time for schools may present short-term roadblocks for administration, but would present long-term benefits for students.

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