It’s 3 a.m. on a Monday night, and NDP junior Christian Galia is still awake, fueled by caffeine, and writing furiously to try to finish his homework as soon as possible. For some students, a night like this is rare, but for Galia, this is just an unfortunate reality of his high school experience.

Galia will eventually go to sleep just a few hours before he has to wake back up again. Throughout the next school day, he feels “terrible and really tired.” While Galia would love to get more sleep to feel more awake, other activities after school, habitual procrastination and an abundance of homework prevents this.

Senior Austin Layne drinks a Bang Energy before school to get a caffeine boost after only getting four hours of sleep. Staff photo taken by Dylan O’Hara.

During an average day at Notre Dame Prep, students are walking about in a zombie-like state, relying solely upon an assortment of caffeinated beverages to survive the long, arduous day ahead. Throughout the course of the day, these students will find their eyes growing heavy, as they wish for nothing more than a brief, twenty-minute rest. 

Students at NDP are sleep deprived due to large quantities of homework, time-consuming extracurricular activities and procrastination. By choosing to work for good grades while balancing busy schedules, students often have to sacrifice sleep in order to stay on top of all of their assignments.

These students who have difficulty staying awake during the school day struggle with sleep deprivation, an epidemic that, according to Ruthann Richter, affects a shocking 87 percent of high school students. But what is the cause of this wide-spread issue? Is loss of sleep caused by teachers assigning too much work or students managing their time poorly?

Academic Shortcomings

Getting a sufficient amount of sleep every night, which, according to Michael Crocetti of Johns Hopkins University, is between nine and nine and a half hours, is a necessity for high school students. By not getting enough sleep, students perform worse academically because their minds are not rested enough to be able to focus in classes.

Research has found that sleep deprivation has a major effect on the cognitive abilities of those who are afflicted with this condition. According to a case study performed by June Pilcher & Allen Huffcutt, in a group of 143 people, those who were sleep deprived when performing an intellectual exam scored 1.37 standard deviations lower than the control group, who were not sleep deprived.

Many students across Notre Dame Prep can support the fact that their cognitive abilities decrease with sleep deprivation. Freshman Andrew Beck, who wakes up at 5 a.m. every day for cross country practice, said, “I am very tired for my first few period classes before I wake up. It affects me because I can’t focus and it’s hard to pay attention.”

Physical and Mental Consequences

Not only do students perform worse academically while sleep deprived, but their physical and mental health takes a toll as well. According to Patrick Finan, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, sleep deprivation can lead to a higher risk for type two diabetes, colorectal cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as a weaker immune system. Sleep deprivation also affects a person’s mental health, resulting in anxiety, irritability and depression.

The physical and mental toll that sleep deprivation has on people is felt by NDP students every day. Senior Shireen Sadeghi, who estimates that she receives an average of five hours of homework every night from her many classes, frequently gets only six hours of sleep per night. 

Due to never getting a healthy amount of sleep, Sadeghi said that she often feels “tired with a lack of energy and concentration, a weakened immune system and anxiety and extreme stress.” The symptoms that she feels match up with Finan’s findings, demonstrating how much of a negative impact sleep deprivation has on those affected by it.

Technological Struggles

There are many reasons as to why students are so sleep deprived, but researcher R. Preety discusses the effects that technology may have on students not getting enough sleep. Many high school students sleep with their phones next to them while they sleep, making it easy for them to get distracted by them instead of getting sleep. Due to these distractions, only 58 percent of students interviewed by Preety were satisfied with the amount of sleep they have been getting, averaging between four and six hours.

Overuse of technology and social media apps is a prevailing issue among students, which is causing them to lose precious hours of sleep. Sophomore Avery Saltonstall uses his phone frequently before bed, to which he said, “I use my phone for around five hours before bed. Last night I stayed up until around 1 a.m. on my phone on YouTube and stuff.”

Even though Saltonstall has the opportunity to sleep earlier, he chooses to use his phone instead of getting a healthy amount of sleep, which affects him the next day. He said, “I wake up with little migraines and my eyes are strained.” He knows that by using his phone less at night, he will feel healthier in the morning, but he said, “Sometimes I can’t really stop myself from using my phone in my bed.”

Saltonstall’s issue is not isolated among Notre Dame Prep students. Senior Ben Linnenkamp said, “I often try to go to bed around 11 p.m., but usually end up being on my phone until 1 a.m.”

Using technology before sleeping does more to users than just distract them from going to sleep. Technology is a stimulant, so using smartphones or watching television makes the brain more awake. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Using… devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock, suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices.” Many professionals recommend turning off all technology at least one hour prior to sleeping and doing a different activity, such as reading, just before going to sleep.

A Fear of Failing

Although external distractions cause many students to procrastinate, other students procrastinate because they are too concerned about doing their work perfectly. This mindset of perfectionism causes many people to delay beginning their work until it can be done perfectly, which results in procrastination. According to Pamela Wiegartz, fear of failure and perfectionism are amongst the most common reasons for procrastination.

Bill Knaus, a licensed psychologist, explains that perfectionism fuels procrastination because, in the mind of a perfectionist, “Less than the best is not an option… [that person] waits until [he] can be perfect.” Perfectionists spend so much time planning and preparing to make a perfect project that they do not actually start on that project until very close to the deadline.

Freshman Alex Matura finds himself procrastinating frequently due to his perfectionism and fear of failure. “I need to wait to get all the right pieces to make a perfect project,” he said. Matura frequently waits longer than necessary to begin an assignment because of his high standards, so he sometimes feels that it is better to not even begin an assignment until he knows he can do it perfectly.

Too Much Work, Not Enough Time

Many high school students blame their lack of sleep on having too much homework assigned. According to a survey of multiple teachers by Brookings, “High school teachers report they assign an average of three-and-a-half hours of homework [collectively] per day.” While three-and-a-half hours of homework is very feasible to complete if a student begins immediately after school, many students do not have this luxury when they participate in after-school extracurricular activities.

Junior Christian Galia is just one of the many Notre Dame Prep students who struggle to sleep due to homework and sports. Galia said, “I don’t get enough sleep because I get assigned too much homework and extracurriculars I need to do.” By the time Galia is home from his practice and has showered and eaten dinner, it is already approaching 8 p.m. and he still has multiple hours of homework ahead of him.

While usually his lack of sleep is caused by his extracurricular activities taking up much of his time in the evening, Galia did admit that “I probably could go to sleep a little earlier if I avoided all my distractions while working on homework.” Even though he would still go to sleep late every night if he cut out all distractions, Galia said that this would give him just a little more rest each night.

Sleep deprivation appears to be caused by a combination of students receiving too much homework and poor time management. While students often have no choice but to stay up late due to extracurricular activities and difficult coursework, they also often stay up later than they have to due to distractions such as their phones.

Being assigned too much homework has more of a negative impact on students than it does positive. According to a study performed by researchers at Stanford, “Students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and even alienation from society. More than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive.”

“A little homework is fine just so I can remember what I learned but when they give busy work that does not benefit my learning, it is not helpful,” said senior Breanna Tyau. For Tyau, learning is not necessarily a chore, but when she is assigned homework that does not help her learn anything, she feels that it is unnecessary. This is similar to what Stanford’s study claims, as Tyau, too, finds excessive amounts of homework to be counterproductive.

The primary issue with too much homework being assigned is that it disrupts the work-life balance that so many students crave. “[Students are] not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” said the Stanford study. When students spend almost all of their time in the evening completing homework assignments, they run out of time to do the activities that are important to them.

“[Too much homework] is bad for my mental health because then I do not have the time to do the things that make me happy,” said senior Lily Dee. Dee often finds that because she has so much work to complete every night, she rarely ever has the time to pursue her actual interests.

NDP counselor Kristin Garcia believes that while homework is a necessity for high school students, students should only be assigned between “two and three hours per night,” Garcia said. “Some classes should always assign homework, such as Spanish and math, but other classes do not need to give homework every night,” she included. Because high schoolers already go to school for about eight hours each day and have extracurriculars on top of that, Garcia thinks that the amount of homework some students receive can be too much.

Busy work, a primary contributor to the excessive amount of homework that students receive, is a type of homework assignment that is assigned solely to keep students busy. According to the Stanford study, “busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points.”

Busy work is the main type of homework that Garcia disapproves of because she does not think that students get any value out of it. “If homework is given with a clear purpose then the students will see value in it and won’t mind it,” said Garcia. If the amount of busy work students received were to be cut down, they would spend far less time doing homework at night, allowing them to get more sleep and cultivate other strengths.

Through her counseling experiences, Garcia has had students come into her office daily because of their stress of balancing all of their activities. “[Students are] overwhelmed with balancing school, homework, sports, a job and other things they are involved with,” Garcia said. She finds that many students she speaks to only get around six hours of sleep per night, which contributes to their high stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Because of how much stress students have and how little sleep they are getting, Garcia believes that the current homework system across all high schools could be improved upon. She believes that “high school should be more like college, which would also prepare [students] better.”

In making high school more like college, Garcia said that most classes should assign fewer assignments that are worth a larger portion of one’s grade. She said as an example, “In college, some classes only had three assignments per semester.”

By assigning fewer assignments that are worth more points each, Garcia thinks that students will be better prepared for college. Because students would have more time to work on an assignment, their time management would greatly improve because they would have no choice but to begin a project multiple days before it is actually due. Garcia explained, “If you could figure [time management] out more in high school, the transition [to college] would be easier.”

After a long day of work and running on very little sleep, NDP junior Nick Ward collapses on his desk, having no energy left to continue working. Staff photo taken by Dylan O’Hara.

Getting Sufficient Sleep

Although the majority of high-school students struggle to get even seven hours of sleep, certain students have perfected the art of balancing work, extracurricular activities and sleep. “On average, I get six to eight hours of sleep per night,” said NDP junior Nick Ward. 

Ward, an AP and honors student and athlete on the swim team is still able to get an average of seven hours of sleep per night by getting all of his homework done immediately after school so he still has time to sleep at night. 

Ward’s ability to manage his time well demonstrates how, even though he often gets large quantities of homework, being able to avoid the temptation of procrastination can make a major difference in one’s sleep schedule.

Through personal experience, I have managed to adjust my sleep schedule through several small steps that have fixed my procrastination habit. Most of the time, my lack of sleep was caused not by being overloaded with homework, but because I would wait too long to start it.

To prevent me from procrastinating and wasting precious time after school, I go to a library or a Starbucks to complete my homework. By going to places such as these, I force myself to get my work done because there are no distractions around me like there are when I am at home, so I can get my homework done both earlier and faster.

My sleep schedule has dramatically changed since I have started finishing my homework immediately after school. Prior to this change, I would often not go to sleep until around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. This was mostly due to the fact that I would not even begin my homework until past 9 p.m. Now that I have been completing my assignments earlier, I have been going to sleep at a healthier time of about 11 p.m.

While it is not always possible for students to work on homework immediately after school due to extracurricular activities and other obligations, making an effort to begin homework before doing any personal activities can allow students to get a few more precious hours of sleep. Even if a student were to begin his or her homework by 8 p.m., that student could usually be asleep by 11 p.m. if he or she were to avoid all distractions.

Read more about common coping strategies for sleep deprived students at NDP here.

Conclusion

Sleep deprivation is a blight to both the academic performance of students and to their physical and mental health, and while it is inevitable that students will experience late nights on occasion due to excessive homework and extracurricular activities, the number of late nights a student has can be mitigated by avoiding distractions.

The cause of students being sleep deprived cannot be blamed solely on either poor time management of students or too much homework being assigned by teachers; it is a combination of both factors. There are many actions that students can take to obtain more sleep, including spending less time on technology and working on homework sooner, but teachers can also take action to ensure that students are getting enough sleep, particularly through assigning less busy work. If both of these factors were to be met, students could be better rested and have more balanced lives, resulting in a far more enjoyable, less stressful, high school career.