By Anna Popnikolova, assistant editor-in-chief

It’s not a big secret, or at least, not a very well-kept one, that this country—this world, is battling a public health epidemic: the Sleep Epidemic. Of course, it may be something we scoff at, and with much bigger problems in the world today, I don’t suppose everyone looks at sleep as the most important thing they should be focusing on. It can usually be sacrificed, to cram for that important test tomorrow, to write that paper, to finish up the day’s work, to finish reading that really good book. Many of us go to bed late and wake up early for work; we make up for it with an extra shot of espresso in the morning or a splash of cold water in the face. It’s no big deal. 

Specifically, with the teenage population, we see kids who go to sleep at, let’s say, 2:00 a.m., and need to wake up the next morning at 7:00 for school, giving them only about 5 hours of sleep a night. For kids that wake up at 6:00 to do homework, or to accommodate a longer travel time to school, that affords them 4 hours of sleep. Of course, this isn’t necessarily any child’s fault, not by default. Homework and school assignments play perhaps the largest part in the sleep deprivation of teenagers. With anywhere from three to six hours of homework on any given night—depending on the intensity of a student’s classes, and their work pace, a student can’t be expected to successfully juggle extracurriculars, personal life, and schoolwork. 

Let’s follow an example: for a student participating in a sport that is currently in season, practice is usually daily and ends at around 5 or 6 pm. From this, our hypothetical student returns home, showers, and eats dinner, taking about an hour and a half to do so. At this point, it should be somewhere around 7 p.m. Say that this student is near the end of the quarter, and their classes have been piling on a lot of work to wrap up grades, along with study material for the upcoming end-of-quarter exams. This is an evening when the student has around six hours of work.

A realistic workload for a student participating in mostly honors classes might look along the lines of: a history DBQ (taking about an hour) and a Quizlet to study for a quiz the next day (half hour study time), an IXL for math class, along with a worksheet (combined taking an hour), three chapters of annotating for a book in English, along with a journal entry response (two hours total), and a chapter’s notes and textbook questions for a science class (about an hour). Our student has to study for their science test and history quiz the following day, and a math test-taking place later in the week. Along with this evening’s workload, the student has an extra assignment for their elective class, say it is a VHS course, and is a participating member of a club, which requires some engagement after school hours, these two engagements only taking a half hour. The student works on everything for our estimated six hours.

Starting at 7 p.m., the student should be done by 1 am, if they work at a consistent pace—and our relative calculations for the amount of time each assignment should take are accurate. Not only is this an incredibly long time to be working without break, and, psychologically speaking, not a productive schedule for focused and efficient work, but it leaves little time for anything else in the student’s life. Say our student takes some time after they are done to scroll through social media or watch TV, or maybe chat with a friend, assuming they are not too exhausted to do either of those things, and then fall asleep at around 2 a.m. This schedule is definitely dependent on an individual student’s classload, and even a specific day or period of the quarter, but 2 a.m. is not an unreasonable hour to be falling asleep.

When we look at the workload and the separate time frame for each assignment, it doesn’t look like much. But it adds up, and it’s draining. It could take even longer for a student to annotate a particularly boring book or work through a frustrating IXL. A tired kid takes a lot longer to finish their schoolwork than one who is not absolutely drained by their day’s activities. The reality is, every kid has commitments. Be it some sort of sport, like in the example, a club, or a job. A teen who has to pick their siblings up from school and watch them until their parents come home is engaged all afternoon, and this doesn’t even take teenagers’ social lives into consideration. A lot of sacrifice and compromise is involved when students want to spend an afternoon with friends; should they leave that essay for tomorrow’s struggle, or opt out of a fun day to get the schoolwork done? Can it reasonably be expected that kids consistently resign their personal lives in order to stay on top of their academics and extracurriculars?

Apparently, the school system assumes that a sixteen-year-old has the skills to prioritize, manage their time flawlessly, work at a productive and consistent rate all the time, maintain their mental health and social relationships, balance their extracurriculars, and get a good night’s sleep. 

Good sleep, the importance of it, and the benefits of a good night of sleep is consistently advocated. Caffeine is a normalized evil but an evil nonetheless—yes, it’s unhealthy and addictive and yes, sleep deprivation increases the chances of premature mortality, linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the US. One can read all about the risks of insufficient sleep on the CDC website, and learn all the ways in which the sleep epidemic is a serious cause for concern. One can easily find out that an adolescent should get around 8-10 hours of sleep a night to be considered well-rested and be at the optimal performance level for school the next day. But there are no solutions. I have no solutions to show here. I can suggest nothing. School starts at 7:30 a.m. every morning, and students have homework that can keep them up late into the night. God forbid a teen has trouble falling asleep—can we expect them to ever sleep at all? There aren’t any solutions.

We can’t ask kids to give up their extracurriculars. We can’t ask kids to give up their personal lives. We can’t ask anything of students. We’re all just trying to do our best, we’re all out here just trying to make it through high school with a feasible college application. The school can’t change its hours. Teachers often have no control over the work assigned through the curriculum they have to follow. The only change that can ever give anyone a fighting chance is in the very foundation of the curriculum that high schools follow—in Massachusetts, in the entire country. If sleep is so important for basic human life, why isn’t it being taken more seriously?

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