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Stress, Suffering, and Sleep Deprivation: What is keeping students back from sleeping early?

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Art by Jessica Lau

While often neglected, sleep is one of the most important tasks that our body needs to do in order to function. Its purpose is to recharge our energy so that we can wake up reinvigorated and alert in the morning to carry us throughout our day. Lacking sleep can cause your brain to function poorly, affect your focus and concentration levels, as well as your ability to process memories and think clearly. Why is this? According to the Sleep Foundation, “An internal body clock regulates your sleep cycle, controlling when you feel tired and ready for bed or refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm”. After waking up, your body will become more and more exhausted throughout the day and will peak in the evening prior to when it expects to sleep. This, paired with the exhaustion of a mediocre night’s rest, can impair your brain and body’s ability to function at their best. Even with all this information, studies from the CDC have shown that millions of adults don’t get their recommended hours of rest each night, and it can be even worse for teenagers going through their high school years.

“Depending on my homework load, I try to go to bed around 11 to 12PM, but sometimes it can end up being much later, like 1 in the morning,” says one 10th grader. She, and many others, find themselves lacking a lot of sleep due to demanding class workloads given throughout the week. In a poll conducted in September, 72% of student teenagers said that they tend to fall asleep anywhere from 10PM to 12AM, while another 24% confessed to falling asleep past 2AM. This, paired with early wake-up times, causes a great loss of sleep in students. Doctors recommend that teens aged 14 to 17 get 8-10 hours of sleep each night, but it’s clear that those hours are not being met.

So what causes this lack of sleep? As mentioned before, schoolwork is the most common cause of staying up late. However, multiple students disagreed on why homework was keeping them up late. “Procrastination is my worst enemy”, another 10th-grade student tells me, “I’m often up late at night because I have pushed all my assignments to the last minute so that I could do other fun things and am now fighting the clock to make sure everything gets completed on time”. Another student says that their late nights have been due to way too much homework, and others have thrown after-school sports practices and extracurriculars into the mix.

But it’s not just school. Phones, computers, and a number of other distractions have also been the culprit for shortening sleep times. Social media and video games are no strangers to a lot of students, and many of them find themselves awake late at night scrolling endlessly along their For You page on TikTok, or grinding domains in Genshin Impact. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the games that are keeping us up, it's the blue light from the screens. “‘Electronics emit a glow called blue light that has a particular frequency. When it hits receptors in the eye,” says Dr. Van Gilder, “those receptors send a signal to the brain which suppresses the production of melatonin and keeps kids from feeling tired. And adolescents are low on melatonin and start producing it later, to begin with’” (

For most seniors working through their last year of high school, the college admissions process can be a giant contributing factor to their lack of sleep. One senior tells me that it’s hard for her to find time for herself to do other things other than focusing on studies and sports practice. Another says that she tries her best to prioritize her sleep, and knows that it’ll get much worse as the year goes on, as she is part of the Diploma Program. They’re constantly being told that it’s best to be “well rounded” in their courses, which only adds to the late-night studying in order to perfect their applications.

And it’s only the beginning of the school year. With messed up late nights causing sluggish mornings, it can be difficult to maintain healthy sleep throughout the school year. However, you can do something about it. Here are some quick tips for getting your sleep back on track!

  • Be consistent with your sleep schedule! Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends

  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep

  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature (studies have shown that ~65 F is the best temperature to sleep at, according to the Sleep Foundation!)

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom

  • Avoid large meals and caffeine before bedtime

  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night

Falling asleep on time can definitely be frustrating. It’s important to remember that you should avoid procrastinating or finding distractions more appealing than work that needs to get done. With this, I do hope that you are able to find a good night’s rest. Bonne nuit, buenas noches, goodnight!

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