Losing Sleep: Who’s to Blame?

High school students are notorious for their lack of sleep, but why?


Portia LeFebvre snoozes at her desk, catching up on some much-needed sleep. This photo was posted to pch.naps on Instagram on Nov. 9, 2021.

Maya Sagett, Staff Reporter

With over 600 followers, the pch.naps Instagram account is dedicated to exemplifying Central’s love for snoozing during class. But where does this need for extra sleep come from? Is it a direct result of students’ amount of homework each night, or are we keeping ourselves up voluntarily on popular networks like TikTok and Netflix?

The ongoing argument, typically between adolescents and their parents, is wondering about where teens’ lack of sleep really stems from. Although adults love to harp on the fact that this generation’s kids are addicted to their phones, that may not be the true issue.

Portia LeFebvre (10) believes that it’s not just the amount of work school is giving her, but the stress that follows her after even the work is done.

“School keeps me up more than screens because watching my phone puts me to sleep, but school makes me anxious and nervous,” LeFebvre said.

Similarly, Ella Harris (10) finds that recreational screens benefit her sleep schedule.

“I think screens help me fall asleep because I can wind down by watching TikTok once I’m done with everything, and then just go to sleep right after,” Harris said.

Being in front of screens can have its benefits, but for some students it’s a game-time decision. Grace Gettemeier (9) has mixed feelings about what is the best method for falling asleep each night.

“It depends; sometimes I can fall asleep easier watching TV and going to bed, but sometimes my phone keeps me up longer,” Gettemeier said.

The overall usage of screens, whether for school or otherwise, tends to contribute to much of high school students’ free time after school. However, a large amount of time is also dedicated to activities like sports, clubs, jobs and other responsibilities.

“I spend about five hours doing sports most nights because I have
horseback riding and lacrosse practice or field hockey practice in the fall,” LeFebvre said.

Many teens tend to stay up late, which is why they also don’t think that starting school later (and therefore ending later) would be a problem. But, when sports are over and homework is just beginning well into the evening, staying up until midnight isn’t a struggle, it’s the waking up just six hours later that becomes problematic.

“I can’t even wake up at 6 a.m. I hate waking up at 6 cause like that’s boring,” LeFebvre said. “Getting up super early sucks, and then you have to be here for eight hours, like nah fam.”

Since staying up late is the easy part, it’s a common opinion among high schoolers that starting school later is a simple solution. In the Parkway School district, because of the need for staggering bus times, most elementary schools start at around 9 a.m., middle schools at 8:20, and high schools at 7:35. But, by switching this around so
that high school can begin at 9, or even 8:20, the issue of losing sleep is a step towards being solved.

It’s no secret that elementary school-aged children are okay with, if not already, waking up with the chickens. On average, they go to sleep from 7-8:30 p.m. and wake up anywhere between 6 and 8 a.m. So, they would likely have little to no aversion to starting school 90 minutes earlier, which would allow for high schoolers to get an hour of extra sleep and still have younger kids getting the recommended 9-12 hours of sleep.

Other high schools in the St. Louis area, including Rockwood high schools and MICDS, are noticing the benefits of changing their start time to 8:30 a.m. In the Rockwood School District, they have an optional enrollment opportunity called “zero hour,” in which they can come to school an hour earlier for an extra study time (the equivalent to what PCH knows as Ac Lab). Students are more productive throughout the day after getting an extra hour of sleep, but still have the option to come to school earlier if that works best for their family and transportation needs. This schedule change just might be what high school students in Parkway need to see happen for the sake of their success.

“If school started later, I think I wouldn’t be as tired so I’d be more productive at school,” Akshaj Variath (10) said. “It also would follow my natural sleep schedule.”

According to the CDC, teenagers aged 13-18 should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per 24 hours. So, if the 12 to 1 a.m. bedtime continued, but high schoolers could wake up between 8 and 9 a.m., that suggestion would be fulfilled.

Gettemeier mentions that her sleep schedule is not on par with what is recommended for high school-aged students.

“I don’t have a healthy sleep schedule. I go to bed late and wake up 15 minutes before I have to leave,” Gettemeier said. “I’d like to sleep later and be able to get 8-10 hours of sleep.”

According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, delayed start days or consistent later start times in high schools are allowing kids to sleep more, get better grades, have less tardies, and miss fewer days of school.

If schools aren’t giving teenagers realistic opportunities to get the recommended, healthy amount of sleep, that becomes detrimental to not only performance in school, but also their overall physical and mental health.

A 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the CDC showed that 77 percent of high school students get fewer than eight hours of sleep on school nights, which is especially evident in suburban or rural communities. This is also because of the natural circadian rhythms, or “body clock,” that adolescents experience in which they get their best sleep between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., which continues to show that teenagers need to have the ability to sleep when their body needs to, get enough sleep per night, and still be successful in school each day.

Either by napping in school, showing up late, or just feeling like a zombie throughout the day, students are not being helped by the early start time at school. They have to endure staying up late to get work done, and getting up super early to cram even more into their brains each day.

Many variables are keeping teenagers up at night, but the one that stands out the most is the unbearable waking hours that high school requires. At schools where there is an option to start later, or students have the opportunity to reduce the amount of at-home work students have each evening, productivity has been notably increased. Teenagers deserve to thrive and succeed as much as possible, and getting more sleep could be the right place to start.