With classes, homework, sports and other extracurricular activities, some students have difficulty fitting sleep into their hectic schedule.
Nicole Ransome works on homework. Credit: Sabria Streett
This article, by high school student Sabria Streett, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Sabria is a student at the Tatnall School, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.
Nicole Ransome slams the locker door shut, having just finished practice at 5:30 p.m.
A student at The Tatnall School, a private school in the U.S. state of Delaware, Ransome realizes that there won’t be enough time to do all the homework that is due and get enough sleep. The ride home is an hour long, so the fourth-year student won’t get home until 6:30 p.m.
While driving, she yawns at various times, and her eyes struggle to stay open. Once she gets home, she has to study for two tests and do homework for multiple classes. She goes to bed at 11:00 p.m. and her alarm wakes her up the next morning at 6.
This doesn’t only happen in the United States. In 2022, Jesús Martínez Gómez, a researcher in training at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid, studied teenagers in Spain and discovered many do not get eight hours of sleep.
“Shorter sleepers were also more likely to have a combination of other unhealthy characteristics, including excess fat … elevated blood pressure, and abnormal blood, lipid and glucose levels,” the study said.
Sleep gets short shrift.
Not enough sleep affects teens’ moods throughout the day, performance during school and health in general. Can we give students enough time to do everything they want in their rigorous schedule?
Responsibilities such as high-level classes, a job, sports practices and household chores create a challenging environment for students to balance both their educational and personal lives. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.
Dr. Andrew Martire is the head of Ransome’s school. “This issue of balance, I don’t think there are any really easy answers,” Martire says. “If we don’t talk about it as a school, it’s not going to get better. We, as a school, need to make sure that we are assigning homework that is of a reasonable amount and that it enhances learning. It’s not just that I’m giving homework; we also have to make sure that we are not piling on tests all at the same time.”
Many students who participate in extracurricular activities arrive home much later than those who do not.
A majority of the frustration that both adults and students express lies in the amount of control educational institutions give students to determine their schedules.
Schedules should not harm student health.
Ashari Carter, who also attends Tatnall, said that schools can improve student schedules. “How many classes they have in a day, and the workload that they give out,” Carter said. “They have all of this power, but they don’t use it to our advantage.”
Many teachers understand how students can get overwhelmed with all their classes and the work they give out, so we see some teachers take their students’ workload into account.
Tijen Pyle teaches science at Tatnall. “My philosophy is really to minimize the amount of homework or busy work that is done outside the classroom unnecessarily,” Pyle said. “Because I understand that our students are athletes, they have jobs and they have obligations after school, and I’m cognitive of that when assigning work and, of course, flexible.”
If all teachers followed this, would students feel less overwhelmed and have enough time in their day to get everything done and still get at least eight hours of sleep?
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2019 between 70% and 84% of high school students did not get the recommended amount of sleep, depending on the state where the data was collected.
Schools should wake up to student needs.
Sleep is an essential function that helps you be alert, and that’s necessary for all students. High schools in the United States can do more to prevent the rise in sleep deprivation among students.
Tatnall Guidance Counselor Rebecca Whitesell agrees. “Sleep is very important and vital because, yes, you will get moodier, and you’re not going to focus,” says Whitesell. “If you think about it, at night your whole body rests itself, and if you’re not getting that sleep, you’ll feel [bad] the next day.”
If you don’t get enough sleep at night, then it will be harder to have enough energy for the next day. Do college preparatory schools over-prepare students and cause them to have an overwhelming amount of things to do during the school day and at home?
“Teens are way over-scheduled and way overworked,” Whitesell said. “You have so many students who have jobs, but they also have athletics. They are getting home from games and still have to do homework. It’s just a lot of pressure, especially for a college prep school when there is a big focus on doing so many things to get into this great college. I see a lot more students being overworked in a private school setting than I do in public schools.”
With students speaking up about their wellness, will something be done in order to help high schoolers? Sports are a fun way of getting your mind off of schoolwork and keeping you healthy.
“If we only offered classes, students, and teachers would leave at three o’clock,” Martire said. “You can go home and get plenty of sleep. But we like to do a lot of things and be busy, and because we are small, we need to be busy… to keep everyone going.”
Lack of sleep can be dangerous.
According to a report by Carsurance, an insurance referral company, young drivers account for more than half of all car crashes caused by drowsiness. “That’s maybe because a lot of teenagers and young adults don’t get the recommended 8–10 hours of sleep per night,” the report said.
If schools started later, it would simply mean high school students would arrive at school later and get done later; teens would still have to do the same things they do when they arrive to school early.
There are just not enough hours in a day for the rigorous schedule a high school student has. Is there any actual solution that allows high school students to get the proper amount of sleep they need in order to function throughout the entire day?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that high schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later, but most U.S. schools start earlier than that.
Ransome said that a lack of sleep makes school more difficult. “It’s harder to pay attention to the classes that are at the end of the day because I don’t get enough sleep at night,” Ransome said.
Three questions to consider:
- Why is it important that teens have enough sleep?
- What are some of the reasons teenagers are getting too little sleep?
- If you were principal or head of your school, what steps could you take to help students get a healthy amount of sleep?
Sabria Streett is in her fourth year at The Tatnall School. Her favorite subjects are English and Health Science. She finds that art is a great way to use creativity to de-stress. She wants to go to college for nursing.