Seven of 10 students say they’re sleep deprived 

Acalanes study shows common challenge

As students trudge into their first period classroom, not even the bright overhead lights are enough to jolt them out of their hazy state. They sink into their chairs, waiting for the cup of coffee they consumed hardly thirty minutes ago to kick in and finally allow them to focus on the assignment at hand.

Each morning, the common complaint among students is the lack of sleep they received the night before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the recommended amount of sleep for 13 to 18-year-olds is eight to 10 hours per day. When adolescents do not receive this recommended amount of time on a regular basis, they become what people consider ‘sleep-deprived’. In an anonymous sleep survey that Blueprint, the Acalanes High School newspaperconducted of 167 Acalanes students, 71.9 percent of students from the poll answered “yes” in response to whether they met the threshold for sleep deprivation and the remaining 28.1 percent said “no”, demonstrating the prominent issue of lack of sleep across campus.

Sleep deprivation can lead to both short-term and long-term consequences.In the short term, too little sleep can mean a less productive memory, slower reaction time, and a lack of emotional steadiness and critical thinking, all of which are vital attributes to the learning process. On the other hand, mental health issues, higher rates of chronic illness, difficulty fighting infection, and falling behind in class are among the list of its long-term effects. 

“You don’t just wake up one morning with heart disease or wake up one morning with cancer, it’s something that’s cumulative throughout your life, and maybe teenagers aren’t thinking about that right now, but that’s when it starts,” said Acalanes School Nurse and Certified Health and Wellness Lifestyle Coach Dvora Citron.

Sleep deprivation has also proven to be a direct cause of depression and anxiety among adolescents. Researchers from Columbia University found that teenagers who went to bed at 10 p.m. had smaller chances of suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts compared with teenagers who went to bed later.

“I’ve had kids neglect their sleep for hours or for days, and then it gets to the point where they’re not able to function. Sometimes they’re hearing voices, sometimes their lack of sleep can definitely feed into depression and anxiety. And like I said it’s kind of a baseline for a lot of different mental health issues,” Acalanes Wellness Intake Specialist Kiara Thomas said. 

As for sleep deprivation’s short-term effects, students find that when they sleep less, they are less motivated to learn and their ability to retain knowledge becomes noticeably worse as well.

“Not getting enough sleep makes it a lot harder to actually learn things, especially knowledge retention. Especially for me when I’m very sleep-deprived, information literally goes in one ear and out the other. I’ll have to read the same sentence more than two times, maybe three times just to actually understand it,” Acalanes senior Katrina Ortman said. 

Although nearly half of the surveyed students said that they do not fall asleep in class, their written responses reveal that they have come very close to doing so. In turn, this drowsiness in class causes students to miss out on important information, impacting their test and homework performance.

“Most days, I am very tired in class which makes it very hard to focus and sometimes I find myself spending more time focusing on staying awake rather than the lesson,” Student 1 from the survey said.            

Many students wrote that lack of sleep diminishes their ability to focus, creating a repetitive catch-up cycle in the long-run. 

I spend so much time on homework a night that I don’t get enough sleep and then I can’t focus as well, so I have to spend more time catching up every night, so I get less sleep,” Student 2 from the survey said.

Although students’ deficit of daily sleep has several negative impacts on their ability to retain knowledge and maintain a state of mental well-being, many students say that they still usually prioritize school work and socialization over a full night’s rest. The student survey shows that 75.2 percent of students would stay up late to complete an assignment rather than go to bed early.

“I could sleep, or I can stay up and do things that aren’t sleeping like talking to friends, watching TV, [or listening to] music, I’d just rather do that,” Acalanes junior Jack Marron said.   

Extracurriculars, heavy workloads, sports, and leadership roles are the most common causes of students’ lack of sleep. In the fall semester, it can be especially difficult for seniors to juggle their various commitments. 

“After school, I don’t only work on homework. I also have to go to sports, and I have to work on club stuff because a lot of seniors do club leadership. And I also have to work on college applications which takes up a lot of time,” Ortman said. 

Juniors often experience the same struggle of having to manage their busy schedules while simultaneously prioritizing sleep.

“I have a late practice and if I don’t get my homework done before practice … because I have so much … I have to do [it] after. I also eat dinner after practice and I shower so it just adds time,” Acalanes junior Chloe Quintella said.  

Even when some students receive a full eight to 10 hours of rest, they still feel exhausted the next morning. The student survey asked, “Even when you receive a full eight plus hours of sleep, are there times when you are still tired the next morning?” Some 101 students from the survey said “yes” while only six students said “no”, with the remaining 40 students saying maybe or sometimes.

“I get eight to nine-plus hours of sleep, usually between eight and nine hours. It’s good for me but I still end up feeling tired,” Acalanes sophomore Jenna Steele said. 

Other studies show that a person’s quantity of sleep does not always determine the quality of rest, showing that students should also prioritize getting quality sleep.

“Good quality [and] the right amount of sleep is important to help keep you healthy both long term and short term, and to help support your learning,” said Citron, the Acalanes nurse. 

Digital screens, exercise too late in the day, and consumption of certain foods and drinks are among the causes of students’ low quality of sleep. In particular, consuming caffeine too late in the day negatively affects one’s quality of sleep because it stimulates the brain, shortening the length of deep sleep and causing students to wake up more frequently throughout the night. 

Like caffeine, alcohol consumption also has detrimental impacts on people’s quality of sleep.

“[Alcohol] will make you tired right away and you’ll sleep, but the sleep quality is very poor and you’ll probably wake often throughout the night and not get enough sleep,” Citron said.     

Although the majority of surveyed students say that they are sleep-deprived, about 30 percent of them report that they are not. Many of these students offer advice on maintaining a good sleep schedule, reiterating the importance of having disciplined bedtimes and sleep schedules.

“I prioritize sleep over homework because if I get good sleep at least I can pay attention in class,” Student 3 from the survey said.

Ultimately, many students say that getting their homework done on time allows them to maintain a more efficient schedule. 

I try to prioritize homework after school, which is usually what keeps me up later. I also read before I go to bed because it helps,” Student 4 from the survey said.  

Other people add that adopting a strict night routine can aid in maintaining a proper sleep schedule. 

“Your body responds well to routines, so if you get into a ritual. You know at 8:15, I get into my pajamas and I brush my teeth. If that’s what you do, your body will buy into it and get on board,” Thomas said. 

When the student survey asked what leads to sleep deprivation, 86.6 percent, or 110 students, attributed it to their heavy workload. Students believe that sleep deprivation may reduce if their heavy workloads could become more manageable, prompting teachers to eliminate unnecessary work from their curriculum.  

Others believe that the problem of sleep deprivation is mainly rooted in the distractions of social media and stimulation of digital screens. 72.4 percent, or 92 students, said that procrastination and distractions negatively affected their sleep habits. 

Some people emphasize the importance of refraining from phone use to better one’s sleep.

“One of the most beneficial things I think that students could do to help with their sleep schedule is to stay off of their phones so often. Just because the way that technology and social media works, is it creates a constant state of stress in your brain. Like you might not feel necessarily stressed out while you’re using your phone, but the way your body reacts is like a stress reaction,” Thomas said.    

Given the negative short-term and long-term effects of sleep deprivation, experts say that nothing takes precedence over a restful night. 

“Lack of sleep impairs your functioning in general. You’ll be slower, your mind won’t work as quickly, and in terms of school and learning-you’re working your butt off in your AP classes, you might as well be getting the most out of it by sleeping well. You’ll retain more knowledge, you’ll function better,” Thomas said.