Dream on: South students’ sleep takes a heavy hit

By Jesse Zhang
Published: November 2009

As the clock quickly approaches midnight, senior Naveen Sridhar can hear his parents head to bed. Lying quietly on his bed, he has his parents fooled–they think he’s asleep.
What they don’t realize is that their son is actually awake and working on an AP European History project by nightlight.

Sridhar will work until 2 am, perhaps, and catch a few hours of sleep before he wakes up at 6 am. His sleeping habits do not distress him, however; he has long since gotten used to such a routine.

With “homework, a lot of commitments, and general procrastination, Sridhar averages three to five hours of sleep a night during weekdays of the school year.

“I think it’s worth it, Sridhar said. “Everyone else seems to have the same sleep issues, so it’s not that big of a deal in macrocosmic terms.

Like Sridhar, many students at South suffer from sleep-deprivation.

Unlike students of 30 or even 20 years ago, students of today take heavier courseloads and participate in more extracurricular activities. They have to work harder to get into their schools of choice, which are becoming more selective as applicant pools continue to grow.
Modern students are also spending more time using products of modern technology according to South psychologist Andrew Aspel, and studies have shown that students are staying up until 3 am or later because of texting friends, watching TV, or surfing the Internet.

From his four-year experience working with South students, Aspel says that the average student gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, which may affect students’ attentions, memories, moods, production levels, and stress levels.

“[Teenage life] may have been more balanced years ago. The pressure has increased [since then], Aspel said. “What kids are doing to get into colleges may be misperceptive of what they need to do. Kids are looking for whatever edge they need.

Psychology Today recently reported that teenagers naturally require more sleep than both adults and children. Teenagers likewise have a delayed sleeping phase, which causes them to stay up later at night. 

Teens need at least nine hours of sleep per night to avoid sleep-deprivation-associated behaviors such as fatigue, oversleeping on weekends, tendency to take naps, and falling asleep in class, according to adoption.com.

Science Daily also reported earlier this year that sleep-deprivation may also lead to depression and stress, which can lead to problems such as drug and alcohol usage.
History Department Head Marshall Cohen, who has worked at South since 1971, says that more Americans want to go to college today than they did 30 years ago, causing increased levels of competition and less sleep.

“Before, smaller, less well-known colleges were not as selective as they are today, Cohen said. “Now students are more competitive. Applicants are having to work harder.

Cohen, who has taught both Advanced Placement and Curriculum II courses, feels that as a teacher, he does not want his students to be deprived of sleep, but must nevertheless cover the required curriculum.

“It’s about being healthy. [Being sleep-deprived] is not good for you, Cohen said.

In an attempt to fight sleep deprivation, Principal Joel Stembridge wants to look at the choices students are making.

“I want us to make sure we have the educational programs to make sure students know how their body responds to [sleep-deprivation], Stembridge said. “[Fighting sleep-deprivation] is more about time management.

Stembridge notes that the school offers stress-management Wellness courses to help students cope with their lack of sleep.

Although Sridhar feels that an all-encompassing solution does not exist, he believes that starting school at a later time may alleviate sleep-deprivation.

Several high schools across the nation have already pushed back the time school starts to help teens fight sleep deprivation.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota studied 7,000 high school students whose school district switched the time school starts in 1997 from 7:15 am to 8:40 am.

After the time change, students have received more sleep, experienced less fatigue during the day, earned slightly higher grades, and experienced less depression.

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