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Yawn: A student’s perspective on not getting enough sleep  


Amy Fan, Bellaire, 2016

It seems like an afterthought for many of us. Compared with school, sports, and extracurriculars, colleges don’t care how many hours of sleep you get. It’s not something you can brag about to your friends. You’re not going to look back on your high school days and fondly remember all those hours you spent sleeping in bed. Sleep simply isn’t glamorous.

However, when the alarm goes off every morning, we all experience the same unwillingness to get out of bed. We all have our reasons for staying up late–homework, extracurriculars, an interesting conversation with a friend, the alluring screen of the computer,  procrastination, or most likely, a mixture of them all.

Counting Eye Bags

Last year, those nights after a mental map was due in my AP World History class (read: a really time consuming assignment that people frequently waited until the last minute to do), I would look around the room and count the number of people I could spot the eye bags on. It was a lot. That was an extreme. However, I still frequently hear stories about my friends getting less than 5 hours of sleep and pulling all nighters during the school week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics made national headlines a few months ago when they suggested that high schools should start later to align with the biological sleep cycles of teenagers. They claimed that “59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.” Most of my friends and I are part of that 87%.

Sleep Debt

If I don’t sleep well Monday night, I tend to be less productive on Tuesday night, which means I sleep later, then I’m less productive on Wednesday night, and so on. This cycle is impossible to break until the beloved weekends. Many of my friends will rack up a “sleep debt” during the school week, hoping to make it up over the weekends. Sleeping 14 hours nonstop on a weekend is not unheard of. When asked how most people spend a long break, the response is often, “sleep.”

In my English class, we had a discussion about dressing to impress, when this came up: “On Mondays, you look your best, because you’ve had a weekend’s worth of sleep. Then you just stop caring as the week goes on because you’re so tired, and by the time Friday comes around you look like crap.” Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.

A state of sleep deprivation has become the norm for me, and I’ve been to associate “well-rested” with “not busy enough”. Even if I have a night where I can go to sleep at 10, I usually don’t fall asleep until close to midnight. And I wake up the next morning groggy and tired.

Additionally, reducing travel times to school can often lead to more sleep. I’m a supporter of school choice, but I don’t think going to a school further away from home is always worth losing sleep over. My middle school was a 25 minute drive from my house. This was nothing compared to some of my friend’s commutes. Riding the bus meant getting up an hour and 40 minutes before school started. However, one of the main reasons I chose Bellaire for high school was that it was just a 5 minute drive from my house. This meant I could wake up 20 minutes later during the school week. And yet I’m still tired.

Side Effects

According to pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, the effects of sleep deprivation are more serious than they seem on the surface. “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Owen said.

The simple reality is that students aren’t getting enough sleep. How do we fix this?

  1. Force the entire teenage population to sleep earlier
  2. Start schools later
  3. Have students go to schools closer to home.
  4. Have teachers assign less homework

Or how about a combination of all four? We’ll do our best to sleep earlier and consider commute times if HISD start schools later and teachers assign less homework.

Further Reading:

School Start times for Adolescents (AAP policy statement)

Start Schools Later (National campaign)

Later School Start Times (National Sleep Foundations)

To Keep Teenagers Alert, Schools Let Them Sleep In (New York Times)


4 comments on “Yawn: A student’s perspective on not getting enough sleep  

  1. Debbie Moore
    March 1, 2015

    Thanks for your great post. Start School Later-Arlington has worked for a return to healthy hours since 2012 where school starts at 7:35 am. I am also lobbying the state legislature to set parameters for daily school start times. Please contact Rep. Bobby Guerra, member of the house committee on public health and ask him to introduce the draft of legislation that Start School Later-Texas provided. (512)463-0578 or

    I would love for you to join our efforts in Texas!

  2. Alexus Granados
    March 2, 2015

    To my understanding, the average number of high school student classes one i assigned to is 8. This, usually meaning 8 assigning a specific homework. Also, some take pre-ap classes or maybe even AP classes so times that to 2 or 3 even . To my extent of knowledge, homework is given as a brief reminder of what has been taught, but exceeding the amount of work from weekly projects, daily PAGES of term defining’s, incoming tests, etc. This kind of work leaves an average teen to spend school from 7:46-3:15 pm, with after school activities lasting til 5:30 pm and picked up and taken home at the time of 6-6:30, depending if a stop at a store is included. Usually calculated, one should spend about 1 hour per subject at the most. With tons of work being given by the AP classes, and focusing on passing your classes, its about 10 pm! Not including your 7 other classes plus time needed to prep for bed time, the morning, and still left to do daily chores. By the time you get done, its just about that time to wake up. How can students go on to study and have time to practice the materials being taught for the STAAR and SAT tests, with a little spare time to breathe, when all we can focus on is trying to pass to the next grade and avoid lowering our GPA’s?

  3. Pingback: The Sleep Issue | Educated Opinions

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2015 by and tagged , , .

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