Good morning, sleep deprivation

Kenadi Browne and Megan So

A Day in the Life of Liberty Students
“Typically, I wake up at about 6 a.m. and come to school. After school, I have swim until 5:30, and then I go home and do homework until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., depending on what other stuff I have to do. I also do theater, so when it comes to that time of the year, I normally won’t get home until 7-7:30, which means since I take AP classes, it can really affect my sleep schedule.”
Senior Melanie Ashby leads a life very similar to her fellow Patriots. Many Liberty students take AP classes, play one or more sports, are involved in clubs or other after school activities, hold after-school jobs—the list goes on and on. There are so many things to do, and not enough time to complete them. Often, what gives is sleep.
Ashby provides a perfect example of a hardworking but sleep deprived high school student. She takes AP classes, swims with the Liberty girls’ swim team, and participates in theatre and performing arts both on and off stage.
“[My activities] can really affect my sleep schedule. Last year, there were solid weeks when I only got three hours of sleep per night,” Ashby said.
So, what effects do this busy schedule and lack of sleep have on her performance in school?
“It’s definitely not good. I was concentrating more on staying awake that actually learning French today,” Ashby said. “When you’re trying not to fall asleep, more energy is put towards that than learning what you’re supposed to learn, so in turn, you don’t know what’s happening and you get lower grades than you would like.”
Another Liberty student in a similar situation is junior Torey Anderson. Like Ashby, he is involved in AP classes, football, and other activities.
“On a normal night, I’ll probably get around five hours of sleep. I don’t think that helps in school because a lot of the time I’m tired, and at the end of every day I start falling asleep, which is not good,” Anderson said.
The combination of rigorous classes and multiple extracurriculars can often turn into staying up until midnight—often later—to finish homework. In fact, 57% of surveyed Liberty students say that schoolwork plays the biggest factor in their sleep deprivation.
While sleep and school schedules like Anderson’s and Ashby’s are common, there are exceptions—students that somehow manage to get enough sleep despite their busy schedules. Junior Dhamanpreet Kaur says she gets around eight and a half hours of sleep each night, even with homework for her five AP classes and yearlong sports.
“Sleep is extremely important to me. After finishing homework, I usually try to get to bed by ten at the latest,” Kaur said. “I think sleep is the number one underlying reason why some people are unhappy or frustrated with their performance in school.”
Kaur believes that sleep is the responsibility of the individual student. She thinks that it is possible for every student to get enough sleep.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of people tend to watch TV while doing homework, or they just tend to have distractions in general. I try to be very concentrated on homework when I’m doing it, so I can get things done and then have time to myself,” Kaur said. “I think there’s a certain level of efficiency in getting things done that needs to change.”
While not all students share Kaur’s philosophy, many of them are saying the same thing: most students aren’t getting enough sleep, and it’s a problem.
“Teachers and the school district need to realize that we get at least thirty minutes to an hour of homework in each of our classes, which translates into too many hours of homework,” Ashby said. “Especially if I’m super busy one day, I’ll have to save my homework for another day, so I’ll have six hours of homework sometimes.”

The Science of Sleep

“What’s the big deal about sleep? Our brains are actually very busy during sleep, and that’s the time when much of the consolidation of learning and memory takes place,” Issaquah child and adolescent psychiatrist Dea Barnett said. “When people don’t get enough sleep, their learning, creativity, physical performance, health, and safety all suffer.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep per night. According to the information above, teenagers actually get around seven hours. And according to the Patriot Press survey, 60% of juniors at Liberty get less than six.
“That means that many students can have a four-hour ‘sleep debt’ by the time Wednesday rolls around. But then they accumulate four more hours of sleep debt by the end of the school week, for a total sleep debt of seven hours,” Barnett said. “On the weekend, many students try to catch up on their sleep by sleeping in, but this can compound the difficulty they have falling asleep Sunday night, perpetuating the problem.”
Over a twenty-four hour cycle called a circadian rhythm, our bodies release chemicals that tell our brains what to do. In humans, this rhythm is best known for regulating sleep. So biologically, teens in particular tend not to get enough sleep because their natural circadian rhythm causes them to stay up until 11 p.m. or later. Melatonin, the chemical that tells our brains that we’re ready for sleep, is produced about three hours later in teens than in children and adults. This combination of naturally staying up late and being forced to wake up early leads to inevitable loss of sleep in teenagers, without including other factors such as activities and homework that contribute to sleep deprivation.
So why is this a problem?
Sleep is important for vital brain activity, as well as both physical and mental health.
“It’s certainly not something that our stressed-out, busy and competitive culture supports. Too often people think of managing to get by on six hours of sleep as a badge of honor without realizing just how much they pay for that badge,” Barnett said. “Sleep is actually a time when your brain most effectively clears out certain chemical by-products that are formed in the course of the day—so it serves an important housekeeping function.”
If students aren’t getting enough sleep, their brains can’t finish these key processes and end up leaving them incomplete. This explains why students who don’t get enough sleep have a hard time focusing in school, and often have trouble remembering what they have learned.
Additionally, sleep has major effects on mental and physical health. Lack of sleep alters brain activity, which can lead to stress, trouble with decision making and problem solving, mood swings, and even mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
“When I’m meeting with students, one of the biggest things we talk about, when they’re dealing with the harder things that are going on, are the basics: are you eating well, are you sleeping well, are you able to take care of yourself?” Liberty’s mental health counselor Cecelia Oxford said. “Eating well and sleeping well are two basics that can really drive us into the ground or drive us forward.”
Physical body systems are also affected by sleep deficiency. Sleep provides time for your body to repair and maintain its vital systems. With less sleep, the hormones that regulate hunger are disrupted and insulin levels become irregular. The immune system also needs sleep to stay healthy, so when teens are sleep deprived, they often have trouble with being sick.
“All I can really say for sure is that sleep—really good, healthy, solid sleep, that each person’s body needs—is going to be immensely impactful on their success,” Oxford said.

Is it Time for Change?

Based on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s recent recommendations about school start times and student health, school districts across Washington have started to vote on later start times. In the last month, both Bellevue and Seattle school districts have voted to adjust high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The Issaquah School District school board is currently considering this issue, and will vote on this in March. The proposed school times are as follows: high school starting at 9:55 a.m. and getting out at 3:55 p.m.; middle school beginning at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 3:35 p.m.; and elementary school from 8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.
“Trying to match school hours to the majority of students’ natural wake and sleep cycle makes sense from the standpoint of health, safety and education,” Barnett said. “Research has shown that later school start times correlate with greater student well-being and academic achievement.”
In addition to being a psychiatrist and a parent, Barnett is the chapter leader of a group called Start School Later Issaquah, which advocates for later school start times and educates the community about why these times are important. They have gained the support of many Issaquah families and students, who are hoping for this change as well.
“I fully support starting school later, because honestly, I’m that kid who stays up super late to do all their homework and does not sleep at all. I have friends who start school at 9 a.m., and they are way happier than I am. I think later start times would definitely be a benefit to students,” junior Riley McNutt said.
However, there has been some dissent in the community about other aspects of starting school later. Principal Josh Almy agrees that students need more sleep, but he has some reservations regarding the proposed later school start times.
“If you look at an inverted bell schedule, high school would be getting out at close to 4 p.m. That’s pushing everything back
an hour and forty five minutes,” Almy said. “So is it going to force kids to stay up later, until one in the morning, because they know they can sleep in an extra two hours? I don’t know.”
He also brings up the idea that changing high school start times would force elementary school times to change due to bussing. Since high schools would start later, elementary schools would have to start earlier.
“Having a 7:30 or 8 start time in elementary school puts elementary school students out at a bus stop for a big chunk of the school year in the dark. Do you want a kindergartner, or a first, second, third grader, standing at a bus stop at 6:45 in the dark?” Almy said. “I have a kindergartner and a second grader myself, and I don’t know if I would like that.”
Despite differing viewpoints in the Issaquah School District community, the most common opinion is that something needs to change. A decision about next year’s bell times will be made by the end of this school year.
“I know that most high school students want class to start later. I think if we have class start around 8 or 8:30 a.m., that would be great because that extra hour of sleep can really be impactful in how my day goes,” Ashby said. “If I get an extra hour of sleep, I could actually stay awake during French and learn about conjugate phrases.”