Students struggle to fit sleep into their busy schedules

by Julia Mendes
After enduring a long day of school, attending club meetings or practices, doing homework or studying, the best feeling in the world is finally collapsing into bed. Then, staring at the clock on your bedside table, you ask yourself, “If I fall asleep right now, how many hours will I get?”  The answer, most likely, is not enough.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need at least eight to nine hours of sleep each night to function at their best. However, most high school students actually sleep far less.
A survey of 70 students representing all four grades revealed that students get an average of just over six hours of sleep per night, and a handful of students are  getting only four hours or less. They blame the shortfall on their overbooked schedules and countless after school activities, which barely leave any time for homework, let alone sleep.
Junior Justine Valdes, a three-season athlete and member of DECA who regularly sleeps only four hours a night, admits that sometimes the exhaustion gets to her. “This one time during my freshman year my teacher told us to close our eyes and imagine we were in a relaxing place…and I actually fell asleep!  My whole class was cracking up and my teacher even told me, ‘Justine, you really need to get some more sleep,’” said Valdes.
The proliferation of before-school activities adds to the problem for some students.  Senior Luke Dodge is a member of the award-winning band Moonglowers, which practices every school day at 6:50 a.m.  “I usually sleep through my first few classes,” said Dodge.
Teenagers whose demanding schedules allow little time to hang out and talk with their friends often compensate by using social, at the expense of sleep.
“I just get into very meaningful and interesting conversations,” said sophomore Ross Mulcahy about the inclination for teenagers to stay up talking to friends.
Complicating the lack of sleep are the efforts students resort to in order to stay awake during the day. Drinking coffee and energy drinks, and even taking caffeine pills are all common methods students use to get through the day or to finish homework at night. It can take more than six hours for the effects to finally wear off.
Junior Paige Mankin, a member of the marching band, various after school choirs and Repertory Theatre, gets about five hours of sleep a night, and drinks a great deal of coffee to ensure that she finishes all of her homework.
“The other night I needed three cups of coffee to help me stay awake while I was doing homework until two in the morning,” said Mankin. “After drinking it all I could barely fall asleep and was exhausted when I woke up the next morning.”
Students subject themselves to a vicious cycle of caffeine intake and sleep loss. They ingest caffeine to stay awake, leading them to have trouble falling asleep.  Then, they wake up the next morning, drained and in need of a pick-me-up, when the entire cycle begins again.
One of the worst feelings is going to bed very late, exhausted, and knowing that you will have to do the same the next day.  Though it seems like there are too few hours in a day to possibly get any more sleep, there are ways to break the cycle in which high school students find themselves stuck.