The Scarcity of Sleep in Our School System

Despite the countless detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, the school system continues to implement this damaging structure, whereby students (specifically high school students) wake up at six in the morning, are expected to be wide awake and actively participating from 7:20 a.m, and continue to engage in school until 2:30 p.m. After classes end, students still have endless amounts of homework and other chores to worry about, troubling their minds unhealthily. The assignments are often tedious, time-consuming and challenging, and keep kids up until midnight or later.

During high school, I worked hard in order to simply keep up my grades. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation only kept me barely above the surface of the stress, anxiety, and psychological well being, not to mention the impact on my psychical health. The surprise of getting a cold or worse would always creep up at the worst possible times; right before an exam, the end of the school year, or even worse… Prom.

High school focused on tests and as a bad test-taker, not getting enough sleep only worsened my stress levels, which in turn exacerbated my cognition. Feelings of depression mounted due to the fact that I spent more time worrying about exams and AP tests; evaluations that were either too overwhelming to study for. Cramming for tests kept me up all night and the feeling of not studying enough caused me to stay awake the whole rest of the night, tossing and turning with a restless mind.

One of the first steps we need to consider includes supporting students’ physical and mental well being.

The academic world relies on competition. The school environment emphasizes this urgency, a restricted place in which only grades matter. Students are expected to wake up and be alert immediately. Starting their day with 7am math equations or rigidity theory. Nothing practical or useful, but concepts that are memorized for the test. Challenging topics, coupled with reduced memory and concentration as a result of insufficient amounts of sleep make difficult learning borderline impossible.

After, they have to continue to engage throughout the day and still have endless amount of homework and other chores outside of class. Stress and anxiety comes about simply from thinking about all the work they have to do. Going to bed late resets sleeping patterns and causes them to have trouble falling asleep night after night. This creates an unhealthy cycle, whereby kids are sleeping later and having to get up early, not catching up on rest.

If the purpose of school is to increase a student’s future potential, one of the first steps we need to consider includes supporting their physical and mental well being above all else. Without this consideration, a student rarely has the strength to realize their full potential. Top that off with teachers’ and parents’ demand for kids to overachieve and succeed, and the school system creates a poorly thought out structure in which children are pressured into keeping up both academically and socially.

Because it took me twice as long as the average student to finish my assignments, I never had time to join any extracurricular activities outside of after-school clubs. Because P.E wasn’t a required course, I didn’t exercise my body or prioritize exercise as one of the ways to take a break and naturally wake my body either.

In many ways, schools are ignoring one of the most important issues regarding achievement; the insufficient amount of sleep students are getting. The structure does not allow for students to stay mentally alert and at its very worst, psychologically healthy. The pressure to strive, compete and engage in class can really damage a student, especially when the tension becomes exacerbated with sleep deprivation, creating a vicious, unhealthy cycle impossible to break out of.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Pragmagraphr.

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