The non-audible bell goes off throughout the Commons. All of the students circled around the various tables, computers, and comfy chairs simultaneously begin to stand up, pack up their belongings, and move on to their next class. With a loud groan, I pull my torso off of the brown, pleather couch that I have been lying on for the past 80 minutes. Situating myself in a seated position, I blink my eyes, adjusting them to the bright lights of the Commons. After yawning a few times and stretching out my arms, I pick up my hoop earrings from the nearby table and stick them back through my pierced ears. Next, I place my glasses back onto my face and loosen the few strands of hair stuck to my cheeks. Standing up, I stretch once again, grab my backpack, and head off to my next period class. By 10:50 am, I’ve already taken my first hour-long nap of the day.
Just like every student enrolled at Collegiate, I’m a busy person. I constantly find myself with something to do or somewhere to be. So it’s not surprising that my sleep schedule is as irregular as my day schedule. I can get from anywhere from two to twelve hours of sleep (twelve hours happens only once a year). It all depends on my homework, what I have to do at night or in the mornings, and how tired I am from the night before. Sometimes I take two or three quick naps during the day. One week in October, I got seven hours of sleep over the course of three days. I have 26 different alarms on my phone that I am constantly turning on and off. So let me welcome you into the constantly-tired, probably slightly hallucinogenic, sleep-deprived world of a Collegiate Upper Schooler. Let’s start with my schedule:
- 5:45 a.m. (On Wednesdays and Fridays): – Wake up, pack my bags, and go to physical therapy.
- 7:40 a.m. (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays): Wake up, pack my bags, and go to school (Unless I have a meeting with Glee Club, Earth Society, tour groups, or a teacher, in which case I get up at 7:15 a.m.)
- 8:35 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.: School (If I have no homework to do during my free period, Creative Flex, or lunch… I sleep.)
- 3:20 p.m.- 6: 00 p.m.: Work in the Athletic Training Room for my sports credit.
- 6:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.: Shower, eat dinner, relax, begin homework.
- 9:00 p.m.- 12:00 a.m.: Do homework (Sometimes I finish before 11 p.m. Sometimes I am not done until 3 a.m.).
If you find my schedule hard to follow, that’s because it is. I have woken up several times at 7:40 a.m. on a Wednesday, only to realize that I had missed my physical therapy appointment. The less I sleep, the harder it is to keep track of what I need to be doing and where I need to be. The less I keep track of everything, the less I sleep.
I’m not the only one stuck in this vicious cycle. I asked 291 Collegiate Upper Schoolers how much sleep they get each night, and only 45 of them said they got the recommended eight to ten hours per night. That’s only 15%. When asked about their sleep habits, most students responded jokingly, not even being able to find the energy to explain how sleep deprived they are. “I am constantly exhausted hahahahelpmehaha!!,” wrote Olivia Brown (‘17), “What is this thing called sleep,” commented Morgan Gutenberger (‘16), and “Send help” said Megan Phillips (‘16). Many of them, however, were excited to have the opportunity to voice their opinions about the lack of sleep amongst the Collegiate student body. Most students spoke similarly to Travis Reifsnider (‘18), who simply told me “I need more sleep,” or to Brigid O’Shea (‘17), who said “lack of sleep ruins lives.” Amongst the abundance of complains about lack of sleep there were a few students who said they didn’t mind their lack of sleep. “Who needs sleep when you have caffeine and Fall Out Boy” wrote Sophia Clark (‘19). The most common theme among the students’ complaints had to do with too much homework. “I’m not saying that homework is bad in theory, but often times it just restates what we are doing in class in the most drawn out way possible, leading to hours of busy work that doesn’t progress our learning,” writes Parker Conquest (‘17). “If teachers gave more focused, intellectually stimulating and challenging homework that would work our minds but not necessarily take as long, I’m confident that we would learn more material, expand our critical thinking capabilities, and end up having more time to sleep and/or study concepts that we struggled with in class.” And even if you have the focus to get all of your work done in a timely fashion, the stress it brings along with it is enough to prevent you from getting a full night of sleep. “I find it hard to fall asleep when I have a huge test or quiz I need to study for,” comments Annie Edwards (‘19). Some nights, I lose sleep not due to physically doing work, but from getting caught up in all of the work I have stored in my mind.
“My teachers always tell me I look tired, then give me lots of homework. It is a constant cycle of sleep deprivation” Elizabeth Murphy (‘17) perfectly explains. Almost all of the students say that what makes them the most tired is not them pulling one all-nighter, but having to stay up a few extra hours each night. “My lack of sleep decreases the quality of my extracurriculars and makes it harder for me to pay attention in class” says Dorsey Ducharme (‘18), showing that extra homework and time spent playing sports and participating in extracurriculars may be more harmful than helpful. If we, as students, are not retaining any of the information we are taught in class, what is the point attending the class? “I think students.. have so many people in our lives like teachers, coaches, and parents yelling at us about not getting enough sleep but we’re constantly being given more… things to do that prevent us from sleeping which… makes exactly zero sense,” explained Sarah Whitaker (‘16).
It’s a universally known fact that sleep is important. If you want proof, just ask the Collegiate students. “If I could choose between sleep or food, I would choose sleep,” jokes Excellence Perry (‘17). “Sleep is one of the most important things on the earth. I need more,” said Brad Grainer (‘18), not joking at all. “Sleep is kind, sleep is smart, sleep is important,” said Anne-Bradford Bugg (‘16), putting her own spin on a famous line from the 2011 award-winning movie The Help. The students have no shortage of appreciation for the power of sleep. “Sleep is the ultimate key to success. It is what keeps us moving during the day… it is what keeps us alive,” commented Garrett Wilson (‘18).
Even freshmen, who have been a part of the Upper School community for just three months, understand the gravity of getting enough sleep. “Sleep is pivotal for focus and happiness throughout the day,” said Adam Samee (‘19). His classmate Isabella Vita (‘19) agrees: “Sleep is wonderful because it allows for you to wake up refreshed and feeling jubilant.” From freshmen to seniors, we all agree on needing a lot of it to function. “Sleeping makes me feel like me,” wrote Will Allocca (‘16), who even though three years older than the freshman, finds himself in the same situation of needing sleep. Sarah Smithson (‘16) said it best when she said, “My life is a constant struggle between the ‘sleep is for the weak’ and the ‘sleep is for all week’ mindset.” In short, here at Collegiate, we care an immense amount about sleep. So the important question is, why? Why do we need and crave sleep so much?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that “sleep is food for the brain. During sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur.” They go on to explain that a teenager needs between eight to ten hours of sleep each night, and that if they do not get that amount, there can be dangerous consequences. A lack of sleep can contribute to depression and anxiety, something a large portion of the Collegiate student body potentially faces. It also can even be fatal in extreme scenarios: “falling asleep at the wheel cause more than 100,000 car crashes every year” reports the NSF.
The UCLA Health group also has extensive research on teen sleep patterns and their effects on daily life. The researchers point out the effect irregular sleep has on your circadian rhythms, which are “rhythms [that] make you feel sleepy or alert at regular times every day.” It is said that by having an irregular sleep schedule, our body has a hard time figuring out when to be energized and when to rest. I reached out to Alex Peavey, Upper School counselor, who has extensive knowledge on stress and healthy sleep habits, to explain other chemical and mental effects lack of sleep has on the brain. “Sleep deprivation causes an increase in the levels of cortisol in our brain, and cortisol is literally a stress hormone,” he explained. “The increase in cortisol actually causes a decrease in functioning of our immune system, which means we are more likely to get sick, and it slows down our ability to heal any pre-existing injuries or illnesses. So what starts as not getting enough sleep can quickly turn into us getting sick, which certainly adds more stress as we fall behind. Lack of sleep also causes some obvious things, such as fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (i.e., we can’t think straight), and memory problems, all of which adds more stress to our daily lives as we make little mental errors in our work and performance that we normally would not have on a full night’s sleep.” Sleep is crucial to our health, mentally and physically. So the Collegiate student body is not exaggerating their love for sleep. It’s a real necessity for living a healthy life, and we are in the midst of a community-wide crisis.
It may be naive to assume that a typical high schooler is going to get home and immediately start their homework and not stop until they have finished. For me and many others, this is the case. When I get home, I spend a good chunk of time catching up with friends and my parents, eating dinner, and checking social media. Although this may seem like time spent doing unnecessary tasks, relaxation is crucial to having a healthy mind and body. The Dartmouth Wellness Center suggests “tak[ing] breaks, give yourself ‘me time,’” and that if you do not give yourself enough space to relax and take a deep breath, it can “lead to burnout, anger, irritability, depression, medical problems, and more.” If teachers and coaches ask us to cut out the time we use to take care of ourselves in order to make time for sleep, they are endangering our mental and physical health. Collegiate students also recognize the need for personal time, and even plan it into their schedules, even if it prohibits them from sleeping. “I’m not gonna lie,” writes Spencer Gorsline (‘18), “I could be getting more sleep if I went straight home and did my homework not stop[ping] until I was finished but that’s just never gonna’ happen. Some time is needed for everyone to just relax and take a break after a long day.”
As a student at Collegiate, I’ve been taught over and over again in different health and mindfulness classes to take breaks, to sleep enough, and do try my hardest in my academics and extracurriculars. To find a balance for these three things, time cuts need to be made, and it’s usually sleep that gets the chop. “I am fine with the amount of sleep I get. I know it is recommended to get a little more, but I enjoy the hour or two of relaxation with Netflix and texting with friends far more than I miss that hour or two of sleep” says Matthew Zamecnik (‘19), accepting the fact that sleep is just one thing that he has to give up. The reason we, teenagers across the world, choose to put sleep on the backburner is because sleep effects just yourself, and usually only in the long run. “If I want to spend any time talking to my friends or taking a break from homework, I have to choose between that and sleep,” explains Kyle Riopelle (‘17). If you decide not to do your homework, you might be afraid of getting an F on that homework assignment the day it is due. If you skip talking to your friends, you miss important moments of growth and development that will cause you to feel isolated and left out. However, if you miss sleep, you might not feel it for a long time. David Angstadt (‘16) compares the pile up of lack of sleep “like that project you think you can keep putting off. You keep getting less and less and then you crash one day when you need it most.” It is much easier to recognize a build up of academic responsibilities and social responsibilities than to recognize the responsibility you hold to yourself to keep your body and mind healthy. However, even though we constantly try to uphold our duties to our school and community, with the severe lack of sleep that many are facing, it is hard to be the students and people we are asked to be. “It seems like my homework load is really hurting my relationships with my family,” confesses Will Calamita (‘19) after only a few months into his long high school career, with many more hours for sleep to lose a head of him.
Another time consuming activity that students said took away from their sleep is sports. Collegiate requires each Upper School student to participate in two full athletic seasons each year. If a student plays a sport three hours a day, five days a week, six months a year, that is 90 hours per school year. If a student sleeps an average of six hours a night, five days a week, for nine months, that is 270 hours per school year. That means that participating in the required sports credit is the equivalent amount of time of one third of the sleep a student gets, while getting two hours under the recommended amount of sleep per night.
When asked where to look to create change in the Collegiate community that would positively affect how much sleep students are getting, Upper School Director of International Programs and Dean of Student Life Erica Coffey said, “I would look at the sports requirement.” Although many students enjoy their after school workouts, playing an intensive sport five days a week can be extremely draining, not to mention dangerous to their mental health. This fall Garrett Wilson (‘18) was diagnosed with a concussion after receiving a particularly brutal football tackle. “My recovery was definitely pushed back because I wasn’t getting enough sleep,” he explains. “I knew I needed more at the time but I just had so much work that I needed to do.”
Watching Garrett go through the recovery process, it was obvious he wanted to get back on the field. To him, getting better meant being able to function through a normal day, and to him a normal day includes a high workload and a significant lack of sleep. “ImPACT concussion research is showing that sleep deprivation leads to worse outcomes on the Impact test and more symptoms reported,” says Shannon Winston, the Head Athletic Trainer at Collegiate. Garrett isn’t the only student who has faced this issue while recovering from a concussion. Students are constantly attempting to rush their recovery while attempting to keep up with their work, generating a dangerous lack of sleep. One of the most crucial attributes for an athlete to perform well is an adequate amount of sleep, and, as of right now, Collegiate athletes are not getting that. Jasmine Harper (‘17) is a perfect example of an athlete who does not get enough sleep. “I swim at 4 a.m. every day and then nap for an hour when I get home. If I don’t get to sleep early (7-9 p.m.) or I if I don’t take my nap, I will fall asleep in class. Sometimes I fall asleep in class anyways,” she explained. Varsity field hockey player Ellie Fleming (‘16) also agrees; “I don’t remember the last time that I felt fully rested. I am
always tired because I barely get six hours of sleep and then I am expected to be active literally all day.”
The Collegiate students aren’t alone in realizing that there is a sleep issue on campus. After asking only a few teachers, it became very evident that everybody was conscious of this issue and suffering from it. “When I know I won’t see a class the next day, I put off grading their essays, or labs… and then the next night I might have double the amount of work to be done,” admits Upper School physics teacher Stew Williamson. Several of the teachers I spoke to recognize the fact that sleep deprivation is a cultural issue, not just a Collegiate-specific issue. “We live in a culture where the norm is to deprive yourself of legitimate night’s sleep for a number of reasons,” explained Alex Peavey. “It’s a sort of competitive thing these days.. people say ‘Oh, I got less sleep than you did,’” commented a Collegiate visitor. Julie Miller, who, as Upper School receptionist, is constantly making note of the several students who come in late everyday, with dark circles and tired eyes, completely agrees. “Even if someone was getting enough sleep, they wouldn’t even realize that,” she points out. It is as much as a mindset as it is a physical response.
So how can we fix this? There have many ideas over the past few years. As Parker Conquest mentioned earlier, the most popular one seems to be lessening the outside of school workload. “Homework needs to chill,” jokingly wrote Annie Bird (‘16) before writing, “you can quote me on that” in a very serious tone. With having several hours of homework a night, eight hours of sleep is not a reachable goal. Another theory to bring into consideration is one that was brought up by Jack Reifschneider (‘16). He wrote, “I say we get rid of having school on Tuesdays because who really needs Tuesdays.” Although completely removing a day of the school week is improbable and impractical, it supports the idea of finding a larger amount of time that each individual student can use to dedicate to whatever they wish. I think that the best way to make room for this time is to give each student a certain amount of “skip days” per semester. This would mean that two or three times a semester, a student is allowed to take off a day for personal use. They would need to have a form, similar to the college visiting form, signed by all of their teachers and advisor at least a day in advance. Not only would this give students time to do their work during the day, and give them time to sleep at night, but it would also open up a conversation between a student and all of their teachers about how they are feeling in relation with the amount of stress and sleep they’re getting.
Some people believe that the lack of sleep needs to become a personal issue, not a communal one. “I think the change needs to be more on an individual level, which then adds up to a collective change. To improve our sleep at the end of the day, we need to be more thoughtful about the things we choose to do throughout the day,” wrote Mr. Peavey. “There are a lot of wonderful opportunities here at Collegiate for students and teachers alike, but trying to do everything that is offered can cause us to underachieve in many of these activities… and it can certainly impact our high stress and lack of sleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Collegiate needs to offer fewer opportunities, but it does mean that each individual needs to be more selective about the opportunities that he or she commits to.”
However, some community members feel that to increase the amount of sleep each individual is getting, we need to make an effort as a whole. “I would like to create a contract between faculty and students that everyone would (on their honor) vow to get a particular number of hours of sleep every night for two weeks (maybe eight hours for everyone?)” suggested Upper School English teacher Dr. Linda Rouse. Either way, the options for creating a more energized and less sleep-deprived community are endless. More ideas include: building a daily time for students to do their homework during school, even if they do not have a free period; installing nap pods in the Commons; lessening the sports requirement; and making a rule that, even if you have not finished your homework, you are not supposed to work past midnight and before 6:00 a.m.
Collegiate students undoubtedly face school-wide sleep-deprivation. It is also undeniable that for the students’ health and sanity, something needs to change. “I think Collegiate’s want for students to be getting a healthy amount of sleep is completely hypocritical,” explains Addison Ratchford (‘18). “Their expectations for sports practice five days a week for two seasons, completion of all homework and academic success, volunteer hours, plus a balanced social and family life, is far too much to fit into a day, at least for the majority of students I’ve talked to. It is simply unrealistic to thoughtfully and vigilantly complete all these tasks, plus remain mentally healthy and get a good amount of rest.”
However, it needs to be recognized that Collegiate has been trying. Their recent change in schedules, all though a general inconvenience for all, is focused on being able to maximize free time as well as class time. And Collegiate’s late start every Wednesday, which allows students to sleep in once a week, is a step in the direction of giving out allotted “skip days.” In the delirious, constantly tired state of the Collegiate community, progress is being made. We just need to keep pushing forward until we live through a week where we all wake up refreshed and ready to go, with eight hours of sleep stored inside our bodies and minds ready to retain and learn a school days worth of information.
All photo credits go to the lovely and tired selfie takers.