The Record

How sleep affects student wellness

Katie Goldenberg

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Listening to student conversation around the school, one topic remains consistent: sleep. Each day, students must make choices about how to balance their schoolwork and nightly rest, considering factors such as homework, caffeine, and sleep’s daily effect on student life.

Student Sleep Schedules
For Laura Bae (10), crawling under the covers at around 8:30 in the evening and rising at 3 in the morning to complete her homework is just an average weekday.

“Getting a set amount of sleep is important, and I need to get my work done in one shot or I usually can’t relax,” Bae said.

However, this year Bae decided to alter her sleep habits and shift to an earlier wake-up call in part because of her extracurricular activities, including the school’s Debate Club as well as violin, she said.

“It’s been beneficial because in the morning there’s actually a lot fewer distractions and I get my work done more efficiently,” Bae said.

Bae is not the only student at the school who has had to alter their sleep schedule in order to manage schoolwork, clubs, and other extracurricular activities. With the responsibilities that come with being a student, many students at the school have had to make choices in managing their time and incorporating nightly rest—whether to prioritize sleep or to put it on the backburner.

At around 10:30 on a school night, Alexa Watson (11) goes to bed and wakes up at 12:30 the next morning to complete two hours of work. She then sleeps until 3 a.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. to work for two more hours, receiving five hours of rest overall.

“It works for me,” Watson said. “After a sport, I can’t stay up until one in the morning without taking any breaks.”

Jamie Berg (11) goes to sleep at around 11:30 p.m. and wakes up early to run and lift before school.

“The amount of sleep I’ve gotten has decreased a lot as my commitment to wrestling has increased,” Berg said.

According to Upper Division Director of Counseling and Guidance Daniel Rothstein, the recommended amount of sleep for teenagers is at least eight and a half hours, nine and a half being the ideal. Some estimates claim that a mere 15% of teenagers receive this amount, while the majority are sleep-deprived, he said.

According to a recent anonymous poll conducted by The Record, 13.2% of the student population receives at least eight hours of rest on an average weekday, while 4.9% receives three hours or less.

Josh Doolan (12) sleeps for around eight hours on a weekday, making an effort to go to bed around 10 p.m., he said.

“I get a lot of my work done in the library during my frees and I’m far more productive at school,” Doolan said. “When I come home, I usually only have around an hour or two of work to do.”

Many students’ sleep habits have changed during their time in high school.

The amount of sleep that Berg receives has decreased. “I used to be really anxious about getting enough sleep, and now I don’t really care,” he said.

Bae’s recent changes to her sleep schedule have increased her average amount of rest each night from three or four hours to between five and seven hours.

“Last year I started to crash around D period,” Bae said. “I think sleeping more has definitely changed my performance.”

Effects of Sleep on Student Life
Sleep affects a variety of factors, the first of which is learning, Rothstein said. “If you study the night before and you’re not getting quality sleep and going through all the cycles, it can affect how much information you retain,” Rothstein said.

According to, sleep consists of two major cycles: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM. Four sub-stages of lighter Non-REM sleep eventually transition into the REM cycle, consisting of a deeper sleep in which the brain becomes active and processes information from the previous day. REM occurs approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep; the average adult will experience five to six REM cycles per night.

A lack of sleep also leads to decreased concentration during class, Rothstein said.

“Sometimes around E or G period I start nodding off slightly, especially if I don’t have my morning coffee,” Bae said.

“I usually don’t come to class tired and I’m always energetic, but if I don’t get a lot of sleep, I feel dead for days afterward,” Doolan said.
A lack of sleep also greatly affects mood, Rothstein said. With less sleep, individuals start to feel more irritable and impulsive. Sleep-deprived individuals also have difficulty managing intense emotions, he said.
“If it starts to become chronic, it can affect mood in a bigger way, causing depression and anxiety,” Rothstein said.

Sleep deprivation can be harmful not only to academic performance, but to external factors such as driving. Research shows that out of the accidents that occur as a result of overtired drivers, 50% of the cases involve drivers aged 25 and under, Rothstein said.

“We talk about the dangers of teenagers driving, and obviously some of that is bad judgment, but some of that is because kids are too tired,” Rothstein said.

Many schools around the country have made the shift to a later starting time due to these factors, Rothstein said.

“The recommendation is to not start earlier than 8:30,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are a commuter school, so even though we start later, some students are still waking up at 6 or 6:30 and getting too little sleep.”

Conservation of Energy
Power napping is one method many students utilize to squeeze in more sleep during the day and increase concentration without compromising work output.

Immediately after Siddharth Tripathi (12) comes home from school, he takes a 45-minute nap before starting his homework and goes to bed around 2 in the morning after he has completed all of his work.
For Tripathi, napping allows for more productivity and compensates for reduced sleep overall, providing sufficient energy for the evening and school day, he said.

“Napping can be refreshing, but you have to keep it brief, so under half an hour,” Rothstein said. “Once you start to enter a deeper phase of sleep, waking up can feel really disorienting, and it can be hard to get going again.”

Another popular method to improve focus and energy is caffeine; according to a recent anonymous poll conducted by The Record, 38.7% of the student population drinks caffeine, and 74% of which consume caffeinated beverages before 9 a.m.

Gabi Rahmin (12) consumes an average of two cups of coffee per day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon, she said. Her caffeine consumption does not impact her sleep schedule, she said.

Caffeine can be harmful to drink later in the day, Rothstein said. “After 2 p.m., you shouldn’t be drinking caffeine, because it’s going to keep you up, you’re not going to sleep well, and you’re going to need more caffeine the next day,” he said.

Student Sleep on Weekends
Many students use weekends to catch up on rest, while others maintain their weekly schedule.

According to a recent anonymous poll conducted by The Record, the majority of students sleep eight to nine hours per day on weekends, while the majority of students sleep six to seven hours per day on weekdays.

Zoe Swift (9) goes to bed at around 10:30 p.m. and wakes up at 5:30 a.m. on an average school day. On a typical weekend, she will go to sleep at around 12:30 in the morning and wake up at 1 or 2 in the afternoon the following day.

However, Olivia Kester (11), who sleeps from between 12 or 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. on an average school day, also goes to bed at 1 a.m. on weekends, maintaining a regular four to seven hours of sleep.
According to Rothstein, a regular sleep schedule is one of the best sleeping habits.

“Sleeping late feels good in the moment, but when you have an erratic sleep schedule it affects everything,” he said. “Having a regular time gives you a proper rest in which you go through all the phases of sleep.”

Homework Cap
During the week, many students must face the dilemma of whether to sleep or to finish their schoolwork.

According to The Record poll, 91.7% of students said that schoolwork most affects the amount and quality of sleep they get.

Berg will choose sleep over finishing an assignment, he said. “Finishing an assignment helps me to achieve a single goal, while sleeping helps me to achieve a variety,” he said. “I need sleep to fulfill myself athletically, emotionally, and academically.”

According to the Student Handbook, “the maximum time required to complete regular weekly homework assignments for a major course should be equivalent to the class time for that course for a week.”
Math teacher Richard Somma asks students to do their best on homework assignments in 40 to 45 minutes, giving students the permission to stop after that period of time and take care of other needs.
“The more I teach, the more I become sensitive to student needs,” Somma said. “I think that if there are issues with homework, it’s being criticized because it’s busy work, and it should be something that’s intellectually interesting.”

Competing with Sleep
Some students believe there is a perceived correlation between going to sleep later and working harder at the school. “People take not sleeping as an act of pride at Horace Mann,” Doolan said.

“I think there’s this pride thing where kids compete with one another to see who sleeps less for whatever reason,” Berg said.

Tripathi acknowledges that there is a notion that kids who sleep later are more hardworking, but does not believe it to be true, he said. “It just depends on what works for you and what you do outside of school.”
To receive a better quality of sleep, Rothstein recommends decreasing the amount of time spent on technology prior to sleeping, as the stimulation tricks the brain into staying awake, he said.

“You can take 15 minutes to just chill out with your phone away, and maybe listen to some music,” Rothstein said. “You’re just telling your mind and your body that you’re making a transition.”

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How sleep affects student wellness