Night owls in Centennial – The importance of sleep

Taking a look at the general sleep schedule of CHS students and the effects it has on their daytime performance.

Night owls in Centennial - The importance of sleep

The wondrous feeling of the sunlight, gently waking you up from your deep slumber. The moon has passed and a new day has begun. No alarms, just by the natural rhythm of your circadian clock, you wake up feeling refreshed and replenished. Doesn’t it sound amazing? Idealistic? Perhaps even unrealistic? Unfortunately, the scene of a good night’s sleep is not always portrayed in the lives of high school students. Many students experience the opposite: a scene of watching the moonshine reflecting on the clock ticking past 12 o’clock.

According to the National Institution of Health (NIH), sleep deprivation refers to a lack of quality sleep with several causes. Reasons for this can vary from having a sleep disorder to going to bed at an abnormal time of day. Even if one does sleep, a lack of deep rest has the same effects.. 

Sleep deprivation directly causes sleep debt, which refers to the difference between the amount of sleep one needs to the amount they actually get. Sleep debt, as any other debt, can add up and have a lasting negative effect on one’s health. According to WebMD, sleep debt weakens the body and brain performances, without the person feeling sleepy. When the signal of fatigue is no longer prevalent in the body at the necessary times, people are likely to fall into a cycle of sleeping late at night, or as Centennial junior Nick Wong stated, a “snowball effect of sleep debt.”

The harm in the debt is important to be aware of. Research has found that the human body adapts to the repeated pattern of sleep deprivation. Then it is unable to send signals of tiredness, even if the body needs it. 

50 Centennial students were surveyed about their individual sleep schedules. 29.8% of students reported having an average bedtime at 11 pm, 25.5% at 12 am, 23.4% at 1 am, 6.4% at 10 pm, 6.4% at 9 pm, 4.3% at 2 am, and 4.3% at 3 am. The common trend among students is having later sleep times, regardless of grade level. Along with the provided data, most students have reported staying up late due to homework, studying for tests, extracurriculars, and reviewing material for higher level courses. Other students reported personal reasons to stay up late such as mental health issues, family situations, eating dinner, exercising, social media, entertainment, and gaming. 

Avoiding sleep deprivation requires a night of quality sleep. Students rated their sleep quality on a scale of one to five, with one being the best and five being the worst; 38.3% of students reported a rating of three. 34% of students rated two, 14.9% rated four, 8.5% rated one, and 4.3% rated five.

Lack of quality sleep can cause students to fall asleep during class as their body is in a deficit. 44.6% of students have reported to often catch themselves taking naps during class on a regular basis. “I feel like I waste time napping after school compared to just staying awake and doing homework then later at night,” says senior Lewis Huynh. 

It is not a secret that having quality sleep on a regular basis supports brain development and functions, as well as maintaining physical health. From crankiness and sensitivity to a lack of focus, not getting enough sleep leads to several detrimental factors in an academic setting.

Students have divided experiences on their sleep schedule affecting their academic and extracurricular lives. Those who agree to the question commonly mention their lack of energy and focus throughout the day. “Definitely drops retention in various aspects, lectures usually become much harder to sit through, packets harder to focus on, work harder to do generally,” emphasizes junior Viraj Janeja. Some students are neutral, where they do feel a little tired but it is not always significant. As sophomore Uzair Ahmed describes, “I’d like to think I function the same if I had a good sleep but sometimes my attention might be lacking on some occasions but other times I can understand the lessons.” Other students, however, do not feel affected, even if they acquire a few hours less than the norm. “It doesn’t affect my curricular and extracurricular performance,” reports freshman Joshua Lawrence. 

Despite interest in fixing their schedules, many students have reported feeling helpless with major changes due to schoolwork or simply not knowing where to start. It is possible for students to sleep better at night by taking a look at their after-school routine. Junior Mahlet Kefyalew  says she tries to “begin homework as early as possible so I don’t stay up and lose quality sleep time,” From reducing late-night screen time to setting an alarm to signal their bedtime, there are many different steps to producing a healthier habit.

In efforts to resolve this issue, in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, the Howard County Board of Education has changed the school start time for high school students to 8 am, giving students an additional 35 minutes in the morning. While it may be a small difference, many students have given positive feedback on the change. “Yes, it will allow for around half an hour of sleep,” reports freshman Ethan Burgoon.

Not everyone agrees, however. “I think that the main issue is that most students go to bed too late rather than waking up too early. In most cases this late bedtime is forced as students struggle to manage homework, extracurricular[s], and free time… Even on days where this isn’t the case and we do have time, I feel that many students go to bed late as a matter of habit,” explains Aybars Kocoglu, a senior.

“Students definitely need adequate sleep or their performance at school will be hindered. They need to pay attention and focus better,” highlights junior Shruthe Yoagentharan.


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