By Maya Cornish
There are many factors of why high school-aged students are feeling less than rested most days, such as biology, technology and stress. For their future to succeed, certain changes need to be made.
It’s 7:00 a.m., a high school student drags themselves out of bed and gets dressed half-awake and snags a Red Bull from the kitchen to give themselves a jumpstart before sluggishly getting on the school bus.
They arrive to school, classes starting at 8:00 a.m., but their eyes feel weighted with a multitude of bricks. This feeling sticks with them the whole day, getting harder to fight against as the day goes on. The student finishes school at 3:25 p.m., only to move on to extracurriculars.
They then go home, barely able to convince themselves to put on foot in front of the other with homework yet to complete. Finding time to eat a quick dinner, the student does not go to bed until 1:00 a.m., having to complete the cycle all over again.
“Junior year (is) always one of the busiest years, (and) I was taking a mixture of (International Baccalaureate) and (Advanced Placement) classes, which are higher level classes that require a lot of time outside of school to study and do homework. On top of that, I founded my own program and was facilitating meetings, running (the program) and basically being the program,” Hanover High School rising senior Sophie Ward said. “Towards the end of the school year that resulted in me being nominated for a lot of awards which took up a lot of my time and a lot of my nights (and I) also was the editor in chief of my (school) newspaper.”
Ward’s experience is similar to many. A survey of high school students attending the Grady College Media & Leadership Academy showed that 95 percent of students receive less than eight hours of sleep during the school year. All over the country, this is the story of high school students who are not getting the sleep that they need to be successful.
“Some studies report up to 90 percent of teenagers are getting less than the amount of sleep that they should be getting,” University of Georgia graduate student Sarah Lyle said. “Decreased sleep can actually lead to more stress as well, so it’s kind of like a vicious cycle.”
In today’s modern society, the usage of technology are becoming present due to a multitude of factors. Screens release blue light, which tells the brain not to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. This disrupts the circadian rhythm, the cycle of being awake and asleep.
This nighttime ritual is becoming common in society, especially among teenagers. In a 2016 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 50 percent of those who checked and got on their phone at night were 18-24 year olds.
“I feel like it puts me to sleep because when you’re laying in bed and can’t go to sleep, it’s something to do. Like, you can scroll on any form of social media until you get drowsy,” Fitzgerald High School rising junior Nate Walker said. “Then if you want to turn it off right before you go to sleep, you can, and I know some people who fall asleep on their phones.”
It seems like a harmless act, but the consequences will last for a life time.
“We lay in bed and essentially shine a flashlight in our eyes and the flashlight is (the phone),” UGA Department of Psychology associate professor Janet Frick said. “It’s like your brain thinks ‘oh, it’s morning’ (and) so that’s a structural change that actually has an effect on the brain.”
During her junior year, Ward was extremely busy with taking higher level classes, starting a program for high school students to talk about mental health with middle school students and preparing for a number of award acceptances due to the program.
“(For) example, I didn’t think I was nervous for my (Advanced Placement) exam, … and then I went to bed the night before my AP exam and I just couldn’t sleep,” Ward said. “(I was) waking up every hour (and) I had a nightmare that I was late to the exam, which I don’t even know where that came from, and I thought I wasn’t nervous about it but (when) I was trying to sleep I couldn’t.”
Things won’t improve until certain changes are made.
“The biggest one is school start time, having it be as late as possible for high schools and I know it’s not necessarily a popular thing, but Athens has a curfew for people under the age of 18 (that are) not supposed to be out past midnight,” Frick said. “I think community-wide curfews are probably good policies.”
“You want to regulate your sleep cycle, so shifting from weekday to weekend try to keep that (at a) minimum. …That not only helps your body but also your physical health (and) your mental health,” Lyle said. “Limiting screens before bed is helpful. So in our computer and on our phone we have a lot of what’s called blue light, which stops the body from producing melatonin. …So if you limit screens a couple hours before you go to bed that will help your natural melatonin actually start producing so that you get sleepy and fall asleep.”