Sleep deprivation steals “Z’s” from high schoolers


Ashley Edwards

Teens find it difficult to break the cycle of staying up late every night. “A common misconception is that you can catch up on sleep," Rosemary Ahonen, advanced placement psychology teacher, said.

Ashley Edwards, Photo Editor

Around seven a.m., the sound of Ansley McDaniel’s, sophomore at Oxford HS in MS, alarm clock startles her awake. After a rough night’s sleep of about five to six hours, she heads to school and tries not to fall asleep in her classes. That night, attempting to complete homework assignments and keep her eyes open is a hassle.

Overwhelmed by the unrelenting demands of her teachers, she is up studying in late hours of the night, or even as early as one a.m. McDaniel is desperate for a good night’s rest, but she knows that she can not afford to do so while her math homework and science assignments await her.

McDaniel is among the many high schoolers who are sleep deprived. One could call it an epidemic amongst teenagers in school, as the effects are daunting. According to, 87 percent of American teens suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.

“[Not getting enough sleep] makes it really hard to focus the next day, and when I’m doing my homework at my house the night before I’m like, ‘Ok, I know I’m going to have a horrible day tomorrow because I didn’t get any sleep,’ ” McDaniel said.

McDaniel usually gets around six hours of sleep per night, which is two hours below the recommended amount of sleep for adolescents. According to, the waking time and sleeping time for teenagers tend to shift later, but it is vital for them to get the recommended amount in order to function.

“[Not getting enough sleep can] Limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. You may even forget important information like names, numbers, your homework or a date with a special person in your life,” said.

Ok, I know I’m going to have a horrible day tomorrow because I didn’t get any sleep,”

— Ansley McDaniel

Many teenagers who think they are just tired, are usually suffering from sleep deprivation. Rosemary Ahonen, advanced placement psychology teacher, works with students every day and sees the effects of the lack of rest in her students.

“A common misconception is that you can catch up on sleep. Students will often come back and say ‘Oh I had a great weekend, I slept all weekend,’ but that doesn’t catch you up on sleep. It just continues to screw up your circadian rhythm. You should go to bed and get up at the same time every single day. And it’s hard for a lot of us just to get that re-established,”  Ahonen said.

A circadian rhythm is the “24-hour internal clock” that ‘ticks’ in one’s brain, cycling between awakeness and sleepiness in regular intervals. Tempering with this master clock can have damaging effects, including Delayed Sleep Syndrome, or DSPS, which causes difficulty in falling asleep at night, increased stressed which can lead to depression, and a multitude of other symptoms.

“More importantly, it gives your body time to rest, and if your brain and your body are not rested, you can have digestive problems, you can have mental problems, a whole series of physical problems. I mean there’s even a liver disease that’s linked to lack of sleep. Sleep is just a very important role for your physical health and mental health,” Ahonen said.

However, the stupendous stack of homework one may see on his or her desk usually is not the primary cause of lack of sleep. For some students, the glowing light from the cellphone is what keeps them up at night. In today’s technology-driven world, it is very easy to lose sleep over a Tweet or a text.

Ashley Edwards
Ola High School’s statistics regarding lack of sleep in teens. Many students stated that they were always tired and struggled staying focused on school work.

“I’m pretty good with being able to put my phone down, because, like, when I’m able to get sleep, I want to get sleep. But, definitely, if something has happened through my phone or something I found through my phone, then it will definitely keep me up at night,” McDaniel said.

In a poll taken by 150 Ola High students, 45.9 percent said that their phones contributed to their major lack of sleep. 69.3 percent of the students said their phone is the last thing they see before they close their eyes to sleep at night.

“One of the ways you deal with stress is to get more quality sleep. But a lot of that is hindered by the need to continually be on social media, waking up at two and three in the morning to respond to Snapchat or text or whatever other media you’re responding to,” Ahonen said.

In the same poll, when asked, “How often do you find yourself struggling to stay awake/focus during class?” 30.6 percent said “very often,” and 38.7 percent said “every once in a while,”. Students were also able to share their struggles with sleep deprivation and how it affects them in school. Many explained that it was an “endless cycle” of staying up late to complete assignments, being exhausted by the long school day, going home to do homework until late hours and doing this same routine over and over again.

“It changes your behavior in a negative way. You wake up groggy and angry at the world for no apparent reason. A school day seems like a whole week. I personally find myself struggling significantly to focus on even the smallest of task in class after pulling an all-nighter. This leads to an increased stress level for me and I then tend to have even more trouble sleeping the following night,” an anonymous poll taker wrote.

Many students even feel pressured to stay up late in order to maintain their grades and handle other extracurriculars.

I am exhausted the rest of the day and sometimes have trouble staying awake and focusing in class. However, if I want to have good grades and be able to balance sports, then I have to. I hate it, though,” another anonymous participant responded.

A common misconception is that you can catch up on sleep,”

— Rosemary Ahonen

In light of the epidemic, some students have found ways to work around this harmful endless cycle. Ariana Davis, senior, has a plan every day to help her get the right amount of rest she needs to be successful.

“I get here around nine ‘o clock, and after school, I take a 15-minute power nap and then I eat dinner and then I do homework for about three hours. Then, I take a shower and then I go to sleep,” Davis said.

Davis also makes sure to wake up and sleep at the same time every day, helping her circadian rhythm. Falling asleep at 8:30 pm every night is a rule in her house and something most high schoolers can only dream of doing.

“Students need to have, just as adults need to have, rules on what technology is allowed in the sleeping area. They need to have the ability to go to sleep when they are sleepy and not push themselves past that. And once you get that pattern reestablished, you feel better,” Ahonen said.

Sleep deprivation in teenagers is a major crisis, and as the days go by, snoring and drooling in classes increases. Sleep is something that no energy drink or power nap can suffice. A good night’s rest is precious in the lives of high schoolers who are begging to wake up without yearning to for five more minutes.

“Sleep is so important to allowing the brain time to rejuvenate, and we don’t do that enough. I think it’s hard when you’re in your teens or even in your early 20s, when you’re starting your career and starting college, to get the sleep that you need. You have to figure out a system that’s going to work for you,” Ahonen said.