Stress and Sleep Deprivation

Shannon Gookin

      Late nights, cramming in an unbearable homework load, disruption of sleep cycle, and the everyday pressure to be an overachiever are all factors leading to depression, sleep deprivation, and anxiety in high schoolers’ lives. The overbearing workload causes students to perform worse in school. If they were well-rested and had more manageable assignment work, students would perform better in their classes. Sadly, schools don’t realize that their policies surrounding academics negatively affect students. The educational system, school start times, and the amount of academic work expected of students are not in sync with teenagers and their brain development.

     Teenagers’ sleep cycles are completely different than those of adults and preteens. It’s natural for their bodies to tend to stay up for two hours later and sleep in for two hours later. When the usual start time is 7:45 a.m for schools, students have to wake up at around 6:30 a.m. Within the 6 a.m hour, students are in the midst of deep sleep (the most precious time of rest for the body). By interrupting this sleep, their brain development is not functioning at the same rate as a healthy teen brain would be. Students should be receiving, on average, 8 to 10 hours of sleep, but instead, they are getting 6 to 7, negatively impacting brain development. 

     Other than schoolwork, there are additional factors that keep teens awake during the late hours: technology, pressure/expectations, and procrastination. Ipswich High School student Meredith Wonson, explains how stress and homework have caused her to be unmotivated: “I have a hard time getting work done even when I’m super motivated to do it. I end up staring at a blank Google doc for hours on end.” Stress does not motivate students; if anything, it makes them worried. These factors are fundamentally connected: most of the stress comes from the overbearing workload, the anxiety is caused by the pressure to be a well-rounded student, and anxiety causes distractions. Simply put, when life becomes too stressful, people tend to tune it out with distractions.

     So, how can we prevent students from experiencing high-stress levels and resorting to unhealthy habits? Schools could take the initiative by lessening the workload so that it is easier to manage, taking into account that students have other priorities along with attending school, i.e., attend work, club events, theatre rehearsals, and or athletic games. The educational system should also reconsider school start times since teenager’s sleep cycles are not in sync with the early hours, leaving many unable to get work done due to sleep deprivation. Schools should also spread more awareness around stress and anxiety, provide more resources, and inform students of coping strategies. By doing this not, only will students feel more comfortable knowing resources are available to them, but their overall wellbeing will be improved.