Already exhausted before I get to school, I walk into A period prepared to compete with my peers as to who got the least amount of sleep the night before. Regardless of who it is, there is one common theme: the loads and loads of homework, projects, and upcoming tests that we have are the reason we were up into the next day. Not one person, myself included, mentions the fact that we had two weeks to do that project or that we hit the “play next episode” button a few times too many.

Like many of my peers, I would say that I am not getting enough sleep. However, as much as I would like to blame it on the AP class I am in or the amount of math homework I get, the fact is that my lack of sleep mainly boils down to two interconnected factors: phones and procrastination. We all know teens aren’t getting enough sleep, but I believe that we, as students, need to start being honest about why. Being honest about why we are up so late would allow us to begin to fix this problem, one that is so common among our age group. 

According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should be getting eight to ten hours of sleep each night. As much as I wish this dream (yes, sleep pun intended) was a reality, according to the Bobcat Wellness Survey that 433 ORHS students took in May 2019, only 32% of students reported getting enough sleep regularly.

“A lot of it is my fault and my own work ethic,” said Sofia Testa (‘21), who said she gets about six hours of sleep on nights when she does not have a lot of homework to do. She also said that at least twice each quarter she is up past 2am working on homework. “I would definitely say that, yeah, we do get a lot of homework most of the time, and sometimes that is the case when I feel like I am so packed with extracurriculars, and spending time with family, and having time for myself, and having homework. But honestly, I would be able to get better sleep and balance it better if I really just had a good sense of time management.”

Grace Webb (‘23) agreed, saying, “a couple times this year I’ve been staying up until 1am doing homework. That was more in the beginning of the year when I wasn’t the best at time managing and would push things off until the last minute, then stay up really late to finish them.”

“A lot of people are like, ‘oh my gosh, I barely slept last night’ but I’d say it’s mostly because of poor time management and being on their phone a lot,” added Webb. 

This is something that is likely relatable for a lot of students. As someone who is definitely no stranger to procrastination, I will often find myself up late working on assignments the night before, where I had weeks to complete it. However, typically I am not honest with my friends, family, or myself about why I was up so late and fail to mention the hours I spent switching between binging Netflix and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. 

With a packed schedule between homework and extracurriculars, we, as students, may get our work done on time and have good time management skills, but still are not getting enough sleep. Often times when this is the case, and I got everything done early, I still continue to blame my tiredness on homework. You would think that this would solve the lack of sleep problem and that all students need is good time management skills.

Testa explains why this is not the case. “Sometimes, I’ll finish something with an okay amount of time, but I feel like I need to have that time set aside for myself because I don’t have a lot of time for myself. So, I’ll stay up later than I need to just so I can relax, even though I should be sleeping.”

Johannah Deziel (‘22) agreed. “I’m so busy during the day that once it’s time to go to bed I’d rather just decompress and relax, rather than go right to bed,” she said. 

This idea of needing some sort of down time boils down to a bigger problem in the lack of sleep in adolescents: cell phones. To add on to Testa’s point, more often than not, I find myself staying up late on social media or streaming services like Netflix, thinking that I need some sort of time to decompress. 

In order to get more sleep, I have worked to manage my time better. Staying up until 4am is not fun for anybody, especially if those hours are spent finishing a project or writing a lab report. When I get home, I go straight to doing my homework and I have learned to take full advantage of my Flex time in school. However, this unfortunately did not make me any less of an insomniac. 

A couple nights ago, I got all the school work done that I needed to. Math homework? Done. Lab report? Written. One page response? Check. You name it, I did it. I felt proud of myself and in desperate need of a break from all things school. It was maybe 9pm, and if I had gone to bed right then, I would have gotten more than eight hours of sleep and would have felt awake, refreshed, and in an overall good mood the next morning. 

I was fully aware of this reality, but despite that, I found myself up until past midnight, unable to put my phone away. The next morning, instead of waking up feeling awake, refreshed, and in an overall good mood, I felt grumpy, tired, and already done with the day before it even started. This mood continued through all of my classes. This led to lots of complaining, as I associated this wave of negativity with the exaggerated amount of homework that I had. I told everyone how late I was up doing homework and blamed it on that.

This got me thinking, was scrolling through social media for hours the night before worth how I feel now? Obviously the answer is no, but yet something as simple as watching Netflix before bed has turned into an almost nightly routine, especially on nights where I have gotten all of my homework done early. And what has become even more habitual: the false notion that it was all my homework’s fault and not my own.

Kate Butcher (‘21), who goes to bed around 9pm on a normal night, explains how her phone has affected her sleep since she got WiFi in her room. “It was almost nice in a way because I would just go to sleep early and my body would just fall asleep immediately. Now, I do have my phone and I do have WiFi in my room, even with the lights off in my bed, I’m just on my phone, and then when I put it down and try to go to sleep, it takes way longer.”

Rachel Higginbotham, local sleep physician, explained why phones are one of the biggest factors of teens not getting enough sleep for two reasons. “One, you’re staring at a light source late at night, and that affects your own brain’s ability to prepare for sleep. Our brains secrete melatonin about two hours before we go to sleep if it senses darkness. If it senses darkness, it knows it’s night and that it’s time to prepare for sleep. So, if you’re staring at a screen, you will not be secreting your melatonin appropriately,” she said. 

Higginbotham’s second reason has to do with the need for high school students, myself included, to feel constantly connected. “Also, just in general, having social media and this constant interface with your social circle is just too much and there’s no end to it. A lot of kids sleep with their phone in their room so I think that a lot of kids find it really hard to disconnect. Kids don’t give themselves that kind of downtime from their social life,” Higginbotham said. 

Today, there are more social media platforms than ever. As someone who has Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok accounts, I know all too well that staying up late has never been easier. My screen time data even peaks everyday anytime after 10pm. After all my homework is done, I grab my phone as if I’ve earned it. Hey, maybe I did earn some form of down time, but is the time I spend swiping through meaningless content really considered down time? Shockingly, the next morning, I woke up tired and still blamed it on the homework I had, which was finished hours before I finally fell asleep. 

Teenagers especially need to be getting enough sleep. “Sleep affects everything from your learning, your memory, cognitive processes, your moods, anxiety, growth and development, and your immune system. It touches on everything,” said Higginbotham. To read more about sleep, and dreams specifically, check out “Follow Your Dreams” written by Holly Reid. 

Being honest about our lack of sleep would solve the roots of our problem and will allow us, as students, to realize the importance of sleep and the unimportance of staying up watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram for hours. As Higginbotham explained, sleep affects us on every level. 

“It’s important because we need to address how common this issue is among our age group. Hopefully this awareness can collectively bring us to the realization that we need to solve the problem,” said Testa. “It may be a matter of shock value. I’m sure that if we all knew how common our bad habits were, we’d feel more motivated to stop. And for those that may feel isolated or that they are alone in struggling with unhealthy sleeping habits, maybe spreading awareness can make them feel less alone. From there we may be able to encourage each other to stay on track with our sleep.”

Testa explains how her lack of sleep has affected her. “It’s sad because I feel like I’m kind of used to it by now but I can still tell every day. I’m just constantly tired and when I do have the time to sleep I just sleep so much and a lot of the times it’s hard for me to feel rested. I can see it in my face, I can feel it. A lot of the time I’ll feel tired in class and I feel like I’m going to fall asleep,” said Testa. 

Despite the world of distractions that today’s teens are living in, some students, like Butcher, still manage to get enough sleep. “I feel like if I don’t sleep enough I would just not be able to function,” said Butcher. In order to go to bed around 9pm every night, Butcher creates a schedule of when she will get her homework done to avoid procrastination and to be able to go to bed at an appropriate time. Butcher also recommends going to bed at the same time every night.

While the suggestions from Butcher are good things to keep in mind, the first and most important step is to be more honest about why we are not sleeping enough. If I was more honest with myself about why I’m not getting enough sleep, then I would go to bed earlier if I really realized that I was staying up watching TV and not actually doing homework. 

For me, and numerous other students, the problem is not the amount of work we get, but rather the fact that we are distracted by other factors, like our phones. By being more honest about our sleep habits, I believe that we, as students, will be able to make a change with our sleep by realizing that most of the time, it’s on us to go to bed at a certain time and it’s typically not dependent on outside factors like homework.

While yes, if we had no homework, we would probably all be getting more sleep. However, I challenge you to think about why you’re not getting enough sleep. If you’re anything like me, something as simple as starting that project earlier or sleeping without your phone next to you may help. If we all try to look at ourselves objectively to really see the issue, maybe we won’t be competing for who got the least amount of sleep anymore.

Artwork by Hannah Jeong