Student health impacted by lack of sleep

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

Freshman Akshay Vadlamani struggles to stay awake in class after not getting enough sleep the night before.

Sleep, a time that should be rejuvenating, is causing some students more stress than relief.

Though not a new phenomenon, sleep deprivation (a state caused by inadequate quantity or quality of sleep) in students at Mason High School (MHS) has caused a recent trend of difficulty focusing in and out of the classroom. Factors including stress, increasing usage of social media and involvement in activities outside of school have contributed to students getting less than the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep a night.

Junior Shrilekha Kalavakolanu usually does not go to sleep until past midnight, then often wakes up before five in the morning. With an intense course load, featuring Advanced Placement courses such as Calculus and Chemistry, Kalavakolanu has had to stay up late to complete assignments and study for assessments. She said these academic responsibilities, partnered with her devotions outside of school, have helped lead to her poor sleeping habits.

“I normally have homework every day and a lot of tests and quizzes every single week,” Kalavakolanu said. “With extracurriculars, sometimes I get home later and I don’t have much time to start my homework earlier. It’s a mix of not only school, but social life, and keeping up with things like volunteering, sports and clubs.”

Since entering high school, Kalavakolanu’s daily schedule–one balancing school, hanging out with friends, and a bit of procrastination–did not allow her much sleep at night. She said that, unlike how it was for her in middle school, sleeping late is no longer her “own choice.” In fact, she said it has been since around grades seven and eight that she remembers sleeping well on a school night.

“I’ve not slept that much in a good while,” Kalavakolanu said. “I’m used to it. I can easily pull an all-nighter when I have multiple tests the next day and go to school without feeling too tired.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 72.7% of high school students do not get the recommended amount of sleep. Alongside that, a 2019 medical journal by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that insufficient sleep, especially among teenagers, is associated with a wide variety of negative outcomes, ranging from health complications such as obesity and heart disease to poor performance in school to depression and other mental illnesses. These poor cognitive effects have impacted students, like Kalavakolanu, who find it harder to be productive when sleepy.

Although Kalavakolanu tries to maintain the quality of her work when she is tired, she said that missing out on her nightly dose of rest usually adds an additional layer of difficulty to getting tasks done efficiently.

“[Being tired] does affect how much time it takes me to do things,” Kalavakolanu said. “I still try to do my best on it, but sometimes I do make silly mistakes because I’m so tired. I’ll either not see something, miss it or forget learning about it.”

Sophomore Nikhil Gunda said he has found himself occasionally dozing off in classes, particularly those that come at the end of the day. These experiences, according to Gunda, often come as a result of going to sleep later than around 10 p.m., which is the time he aims to sleep at. Additionally, the increased complexity of his high school workload, as compared to his work in middle school, has made it more difficult to get to bed on time.

“I have bigger assignments now and I still have to get used to managing my time around such large assignments,” Gunda said. “[Sleeping late] is mostly [due to] my poor time management.”

According to Gunda, his lack of sleep has contributed to having “a more negative outlook” on small things that otherwise would not bother him. Gunda said that he has experienced his will to go to school decrease after a subpar night of sleep.

Gunda is not alone in these experiences. He said that he has many friends who also experience sleep deprivation and that the frequent competition over who gets less sleep can be unhealthy, normalizing behavior that is frequently detrimental to their well-being.

“I wish I heard less of people competing on [how little sleep they got],” Gunda said. “From firsthand experience, I can tell you it should not be a competition.”

For Kalavakolanu, her journey with time management and tactics such as napping or doing work in the morning instead of the evening have helped her steer away from procrastination. She still experiences sleep deprivation, but it has gotten easier to get work done quickly. Kalavakolanu said that her lack of sleep used to have severe effects on her mood.

“It was very exhausting and tiresome,” Kalavakolanu said. “Sometimes I didn’t even remember waking up at certain times or doing certain assignments. It definitely caused me to not be able to think straight a lot of the time because I was just so tired and groggy.”

Freshman Akshay Vadlamani is often exhausted at the end of the day following a lack of sleep at night and usually does not have the energy to begin doing school work. He said this then leads to a cycle where he sleeps late and remains tired the next day. Between not wanting to do assignments, text message conversations with friends and other distractions, Vadlamani said he usually does not get work done until late in the night.

“I usually go home pretty exhausted because school makes me tired,” Vadlamani said. “By the time I shower, eat dinner and am settled, it’s the end of the day and I physically cannot think.”

Affected more by the social aspect of school, Vadlamani’s stress over situations outside of his classes tends to trigger procrastination more often than his coursework itself. He said that the quality of his school day depends more on his mood than how much sleep he got, as sleep is more of just a physical factor.

“My mood usually depends on how my friends are doing,” Vadlamani said. “If I’m in a good mood, I can usually plow through classes but personally when I’m stressed, I’m extremely tired. Feeling like I have to do this and this and that is what makes me tired.”

Vadlamani has some experience falling asleep in his classes, something he is aware of when he does. He said that the organization of his schedule lends itself to making him sleepy and that he sometimes feels he can afford to take a nap in class, often “dozing off in earlier bells” or classes that “do not interest [him] as much.”

For Vadlamani, the factors that cause sleep deprivation are more stressful than the lack of sleep itself. He said that stress from his social life and personal responsibilities affect his mental health more than the number of hours he spends sleeping.

“It’s not the schoolwork that annoys me or is difficult, it’s just the time that you need to put in to complete it,” Vadlamani said. “It’s [harder] when I have other things I need to do so I just have to get [schoolwork] over with.”

Many MHS students find themselves constantly complaining about being tired and sleep-deprived, an aspect of high school that Vadlamani does not appreciate. He said that how little sleep one may get and the negative consequences of those actions are nothing to be proud of.

“I understand if you’re just trying to express [being tired] to your friends so they understand, but if it’s something you take pride in, getting [little] sleep should not be an attribute of your greatness,” Vadlamani said.

Vadlamani feels that the expectations put on students for future success are often more stressful than the actual work itself. He said that the mental strain it takes to do assignments, as well as pressure from sometimes toxic competition to perform well, causes procrastination that, in turn, leads to sleep deprivation.

“I frequently hear people joking about mental health and the student experience, at the expense of their sleep and well-being,” Vadlamani said. “I’ve been raised in a competitive culture. I was that person at a certain point, but your life is not going to be ideal if you spend all your time worrying about [your future]. At some point, you have to have some respect for yourself.”

Photo by Aimee Liu