As junior Paige Demba’s hands slip from her face, her head almost hits the desk. She catches herself before plunging into deep sleep in her English class.
Every night, students retreat to their homes after a day of grueling classes. “Ask anyone at Pace, said senior Kate Bethel. “I don’t think anyone here gets a healthy amount of sleep.” Teenagers sleeping in class is an epidemic in Pace classrooms. But because high schoolers’ bodies are still developing, sleep is crucial.
Fifty percent of students in a recent Knightly News survey reported falling asleep at least once in class. “Maybe a couple times a week I see somebody put their head down on their desk and catch a couple of Zs,” said librarian Marty Hamburger. Staying up late and waking up early, students grapple with getting the hours of rest that they need to function for the school week.
The first bell rings at 7:55 a.m. so that Pace kids are in their assembly seats by 8 a.m. It rings at 3 p.m. to mark the end of the seven-hour school day. Because most of the time at school is spent seated in a desk, students are bound to become moderately distracted or drowsy. Their bodies may be awake and moving, but their brains crave sleep.
“In class I doze off a lot,” said sophomore Parker Spillers. “I have to blink constantly to keep myself from falling asleep.” Sometimes at football practice I can’t focus either.” Parker usually spends his days after 3 p.m. at practice or keeping up with his schoolwork. “I try to go to bed between 11 and 12 at night, but sometimes it’s different,” said Parker. “I have to wake up at 5:20 because I live so far from Pace.” So on average, Parker gets about five hours of sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says on its website that all teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep for their health and well being. The effect that poor sleep has on the adolescent brain can be serious. Lack of rest can cause general fatigue, as well as headaches and bad coordination.
Studies at the NSF show that because students tend to stay up later due to homework or extracurriculars, they naturally can’t fall asleep until late at night. The window kids have for sleep gets smaller and smaller. The NSF also states that a consistent sleep schedule is imperative to healthy resting. “I never get enough sleep,” said senior Barrett Baker. “But, I know consistency is key. Sometimes I know I just have to go to bed so I can stay on schedule, even if I have to sacrifice an assignment.” For most students, the decision of letting some homework slide or staying up later can be tough.
Dr. Frances Jensen, author of the book “The Teenage Brain,” did a study in April on teenagers’ brain development. He then spoke about it on National Public Radio. Dr. Jensen points out that the brain is the last organ to fully mature, and most of this maturation takes place in the adolescent high school years.
“They’re too stimulated by computers or cellphones, disrupting their sleep patterns,” said Dr. Jensen. He was adamant about keeping electronics out of teens’ bedrooms: beds are only for sleeping. Other studies from NPR have shown that another dramatic effect of lack of sleep in teens is behavioral issues. Adolescents struggle with self-regulation and control, along with keeping their brains awake during classes.
So, will Pace students’ fatigue ever be alleviated? Should school start later? Should teachers compensate for students’ poor sleep? Will teenagers’ brains continue to deteriorate due to lack of sleep? “Sometimes I’m just so tired that I get kind of upset,” said Paige. “I’m overwhelmed.”