Teenagers Need Less Work and More Sleep

"Sleep" by Overmars Lee is licensed under Creative Commons

by Lily Potter

A recent New York Times article in the Sunday Magazine made a stir by asserting that teens today are more anxious than they’ve ever been in history. The article cited a statistic by the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A in which incoming freshmen were asked if they felt overwhelmed by work last year. In 1985, 18 percent of students felt overcome by work. In 2010, that number grew to 29 percent. In 2016, the number of students stressed rose to 41 percent, rising 12 percent in only six years.

All this “being overwhelmed” has taken a major toll on teenagers’ sleep patterns — and that’s a problem.

Teens need at least nine hours of sleep per night; intensely long school days and endless homework get in the way of our health, happiness, and ability to function.

When classes end at 5 p.m., I still have to go to my locker to get my coat and other books or binders. Then, I have to hurry up and walk to my mom’s car. Because our school is on a busy street leading straight into downtown, there is always immense traffic. After driving, we get home around 6 p.m., but then I have to take my dogs out, get dinner, and shower. All of this takes at least an hour and a half. My mom says I should be asleep by 9; that leaves about an hour and a half for homework.

But if you count two note-heavy AP classes, conservatory work, and regular homework, the average time it should take me is about three and a half hours — if I’m really focusing. Considering it takes me about 30 minutes to fall asleep, I end up going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. (so long as I don’t hit Snooze — which I almost always do). On a good night, therefore, I only get about seven hours — and only 30 minutes to an hour to get ready for school at 8 a.m.

Then, the cycle starts again, and as soon as first period is over, I wish I could go home and nap.

I am already stressed about things outside of school, and on top of worrying about college applications and other things in my life, a heavy workload and a long day adds to my already unstable mental state. Doing lengthy college applications that require many hours to complete add to the school-day work I already have.

If I need at least three hours to complete everyday work, adding two hours of college applications per day brings the grand total to five hours of work. Essentially, I would be going to bed at 1 a.m., leaving me with just five hours of sleep.

There’s always the weekend to do college applications and long projects but, on top of the need to finish all of my work in order to keep my grades up and figure out how to hang out with my friends so I can have some stress free hours in my life, it’s not likely.

Sleep is food for the brain. If you don’t get enough sleep, you might find yourself feeling irritable, drowsy, and upset, and unable to remember facts and make decisions. You can start craving more unhealthy foods, too.  The Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio states on their website, “ In most school districts, the move to high school is accompanied by an earlier school start time. Some high schools start as early as 7 a.m., meaning that some teenagers have to get up as early as 5 a.m. to get ready for and travel to school.”

Sleep promotes healthy brain function and improves a person’s ability to perform tasks during the day. If teens don’t get enough sleep, their brains can’t help them as much during school or work.  “During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development,” according to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute.

An article in Scholastic stated that a longer school day boosts test scores and helps students improve their time management. That may be true, but there should be enough time to actually do everything you need to do over a 24-hour period. A few schools that do better with longer hours do not represent an entire country of sleep-deprived teens. 

It bears noting that all schools are different. An arts school functions differently than a charter school. A STEM school functions differently than a regular public school. But what they have in common is the number of teens who get too much work and not enough sleep.

Long school days and loads of homework get in the way of how students function in the long run. Long commutes, chores, and work outside of school can contribute to the lack of rest and brain function. Though a longer school day can boost test scores, longer hours and more stress takes a toll on a teenager, and affects their ability to function. Maybe the idea of less work and more freedom is what kids needed all along.


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