Sleepless in School

Submitted by Jax Nicoloff on Mon, 04/30/2018 - 14:42 - 2 Comments

Hannah Schuler is a senior at Lincoln High School who deals with clinical insomnia every night. Or, as she understatedly puts it, she doesn’t sleep well. On a typical weeknight, she takes sleeping pills that put her to sleep by 11 o’clock so she can sleep until around 6. These 7 hours of sleep are routinely interrupted by anxious dreams which wake her up 2-3 times a night. Without medicine, which she can’t always take, she wakes up 8-12 times a night. Thinking back to when she first started dealing with insomnia, Hannah says it made it much harder for her to function throughout the day, leaving her frequently “zoning out” during classes and turning down plans with friends.

Studies show that 4 to 5 percent of adolescents are medically diagnosed with insomnia like Hannah but almost a quarter of teens suffer from its symptoms, including not being able to fall asleep, waking up throughout the nights, and not feeling rested after sleeping. Insomnia can be caused by a variety of things, from anxiety to biological factors. 

High schoolers are incessantly reminded of the importance of sleep for their “growing bodies” and constantly told to get a good night's sleep by doctors, parents, and teachers. It’s true, sleep has been proven to be vital for learning, maintaining a good metabolism, preventing diseases, and driving safely. Not getting enough of it leads to a much greater risk of depression and anxiety. As someone who also deals with anxiety, Hannah says the first thing every doctor asks her at an appointment is if she’s sleeping well. 
Kids are often told to just sleep more. This solution isn’t working. While it sounds great in theory, it’s not totally possible for most high schoolers to simply choose to sleep more. Biologically, adolescents are at a stage where their melatonin levels peak late at night and don’t decrease until later in the morning, leaving most unable to fall asleep until around 11pm and not able to fully wake up very early. A high schooler’s sleep cycle is inherently different than that of an adult, so the idea that school teaches kids to adjust to an adult sleep schedule is objectively wrong. 
On top of this, high schoolers are dealing with non-stop school and extracurricular activities. The societal mindset that teenagers should attend prestigious universities by achieving perfect grades in the most difficult courses, all the while engaging in as many outstanding extracurriculars as possible, means very little time to get the sleep they so desperately need. This isn’t to mention any type of social life on top of this. 
With doctors insisting on the importance of sleep, high schools demanding hours of work, and competitive colleges selecting only those with the most activities, something has to give. Typically, its the sleep that teenagers need the most that’s sacrificed. According to Scholastic, 87 percent of U.S. high school students are not getting the recommended 9 to 10 hours of sleep they need. This shouldn’t be surprising; to get 10 hours of sleep but still wake up at 7:30am for school means regularly going to bed at 9:30pm, an idea completely laughable to anyone who has ever been a high schooler themself. 
The problem is evidently rooted in the way our education system is set up. For teenagers, sleeping and school don’t jibe. School is primarily responsible for adolescents staying up late and waking up early, leaving students feeling worse and performing less academically. This in turn leads to anxiety and a lack of sleep the next night, and the exhausting cycle continues. A solution is to push back school start times. 
Conor Fahey is a full IB junior at Lincoln and is on the JV basketball team. As a freshman, he remembers waking up at 5:00am, typically skipping breakfast, for 6:00am team practices and frequently went to bed at to 12:30am after homework and late games. Conor says early practices left him “without the much needed energy to get through the rest of the day”, making it harder for him to focus in class. For Conor, a later school start without practices before school would be very beneficial in both his academic and basketball success. 
It’s not just kids who are advocating for change; in April of 2017, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine published a position statement asserting that schools should start no earlier than 8:30am. On board with this minimum time is the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One analysis of 38 studies shows that generally later start times corresponded to “improved attendance, less tardiness, less falling asleep in class, better grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes”. With evidence, there’s no denying teens are harmed by sleep deprivation caused by school.
So, if it’s school that’s the problem, why doesn’t it change? The main argument in response to later start times is that city timetables depend on when schools start, and thus changing that time would mean changing the whole system. However, the proposed shift to start school at 8:30am doesn't need society to change at all. The typical 9-5 workday means public transportation is already set up to allow for a 9:00am school start, and parents could see their students to school with plenty of time to get to work. 
It's provent that school is standing in the way of high schoolers getting the sleep they need and deserve. While anxiety and stress among teens continues to grow, it’s time to listen to scientific studies and medical expert opinions. The responsibility is on school officials to do their research and make sound policies that give teenagers the right to go through their day awake, alert, and safe. 

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Jax Nicoloff 

2 comments on "Sleepless in School"

Will Cozine's picture
Will Cozine Mon, 04/30/2018 - 14:44 · Log in to post comments
Jax Nicoloff's picture
Jax Nicoloff Mon, 04/30/2018 - 14:46 · Log in to post comments
Thanks Will!


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