In Pursuit of Sleep

Alexis Dalton

“The insane amount of assignments given to me causes so much stress and [so] little sleep that it is starting to affect my health.” 

Most of us can agree that sleep is awesome. It helps you recharge, relieve stress, relax, and more. Some people use it to escape reality while others sleep simply because it's essential to living. However, are we all getting to experience these benefits of sleeping to their fullest potential? 

According to the CDC, teenagers aged 13-18 years should sleep 8-10 hours each night (9-10 according to upper school teacher Ms. May-Beaver); however, an article from Better Health says that most teenagers only get about 6.5-7.5 hours sleep per night, and 7 out of 10 (72.7%) teenagers do not get enough sleep on school nights. According to the Child Mind Institute, 60%-70% of teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation.

I sent out a survey to the Lovett Upper School to learn about my classmates' sleep habits, and about a third of the high school responded (301 students). According to the survey, 56.1% of the students get 6-7 hours of sleep each school night and 27.6% get 5 or fewer hours of sleep. Only 14% of students get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep.

Through the survey, I also found out that over 42% of students go to bed between 11 and 12, and over 36% of students go to bed after 12 AM.

Though the stereotypical reason for teenagers’ lack of sleep is electronics, like their phone, there are other factors that people don’t tend to acknowledge. 

Homework is a big obstacle for students when trying to get enough sleep. When I talked to freshman Ella Turner, she said that she spends about 1-2 hours on homework each night (not counting the night before a test where she spends approximately 2 additional hours studying). Senior Russell Overly says that he spends about 1.5-3 hours on homework each night (not counting studying). Question number three on my survey was “What is the main factor stopping you from getting the suggested amount of sleep each night (8-10 hours)?” Over 60% of students answered with homework/studying. One student said, “The insane amount of assignments given to me causes so much stress and [so] little sleep that it is starting to affect my health.” 

Along with homework, almost 75% of students have an after-school activity (sport, club, etc.) that causes them to get home late. Though 1-2 hours of homework might not sound bad to some people, starting that homework after getting home late from an after-school activity can be difficult.  

A component that not everyone knows about is hormonal time shift. According to Better Health, hormonal time shift is when puberty hormones shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier one to two hours later. This causes the teenager to fall asleep later, so they will need to sleep later to get a sufficient amount of sleep, but early school start times don't allow them to sleep in.

Another obstacle teens face when trying to get enough sleep is light exposure, especially from electronics. Yes, I referred to this as a stereotypical reason for teenagers’ lack of sleep, but as a student in 2021, it’s hard to avoid using electronics. A majority of our homework is done on a computer (I’m writing this article on one right now). Light causes the brain to stay awake, and lights from televisions, mobile phones, and computers can prevent adequate production of melatonin, and when we are forced to be up late doing homework on the computer, it leads to less sleep.

Because students get less sleep, they might feel more tired and less productive throughout the day. When I asked Russell if the amount of sleep he gets impacts how he feels during the day, he said that if he doesn’t get enough sleep the previous night, he tends to feel “on edge.” Another student said they usually procrastinate a lot because of how drained they are after the day, and it makes it much harder to get things done in a timely manner. If they aren't productive, they don’t finish tasks until late at night which causes them to get less sleep, and the cycle continues. 

But there are ways to help yourself get more sleep. One solution is fixing your sleep schedule. Pick out a time to go to bed and to wake up and do that every day. According to Healthline, by following a regular schedule, your internal clock can develop a new routine. Over time, you’ll be able to fall asleep and wake up with ease. Russell also told me he's “trying to flip [his] sleep schedule,” because he noticed he has “too much energy late at night and not enough in the morning.” When I followed up with him about a week later, he said that his new sleep schedule was going great.

Ms. May-Beaver recommended creating a “sleep ritual” that includes warming up your body with a warm shower or bath, and getting rid of all blue light (which she admits is easier said than done). 

Another strategy to getting more sleep is relaxing when your bedtime gets close. However, in order to do that, you must be efficient with your work throughout the day, so you are still getting done what needs to be done. Guidance counselor Ms. Mehta encourages overwhelmed students to look at what's taking up most of their time. In doing this, they can find ways to be more efficient with that task.

Something that caught my attention on the survey is a response to the question “Could you be more efficient with homework/schoolwork from the time you are home to the time you go to bed (setting aside dinner and a REASONABLE amount of downtime)?” Over 80% of students think that they can be more productive, and I think a part of that is answering another student’s question, when referring to downtime, of “what is reasonable?” 

As a student-athlete, when I get home from a long day at school and practice, the last thing I want to do is my schoolwork. I give myself some downtime to relax and regroup before I tend my to-do list, but it can get out of hand. Ten minutes turns to thirty, thirty minutes turns to an hour, and before I know it, it’s 10:30 and I have yet to start my two hours (at least) of homework. 

I can say with confidence that I am not the only student/teenager who faces this problem. When thinking back to the question of what is a reasonable downtime, there is a lot of gray area. Some students can take thirty minutes to an hour to relax before getting started on work and still go to bed at a good time with all work completed. For those of us with packed after-school schedules, we won't get a lot of downtime until AFTER all of our work is complete. According to Ms. May-Beaver, if students can’t complete their to-do lists in the allotted amount of time, they probably have too much work.

Considering the information above, there is no set amount of downtime. It all depends on the student and their schedule. However, there is a set amount of sleep all teenagers/adults need to get (8-10 hours), so it is best to base the amount of downtime on the student’s amount of work and amount of time to do that work.

Now that the new semester has begun, we can all try to implement better work and sleep habits into our lives. Remember to study during the day, so at night you can sleep (for 8-10 hours of course). To paraphrase Ms. May-Beaver, it’s easier said than done.

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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