It is hours before the beginnings of dawn will emerge over the Sierra Nevadas, and most of the world clings to the last fragments of the dream world as they huddle beneath their sheets. Unfortunately, not everyone is clocking in their last few minutes of sleep: with increasing frequency, the average high school student is becoming a nocturnal being. Pressure is increasing to be accepted into an elite university as competition increases: a record low percentage of applications were accepted in to almost all Ivy League Universities as well as Stanford University . High school students are looking for whatever edge is available to pad their resumes and bolster their extra-curriculars. The dreaded “0 Period” for many students has become the only time to pursue arts and sports, with schedules filled with Advanced Placement and International Bachelorette courses. But this trend is far more than simply inconvenient for the average student at Granite Bay High School: it can be a hazardous, inefficient, and dangerous proposal.
There are three major components to maintaining proper health. Granite Bay High School is quick to acknowledge physical fitness, through two years of required courses, and nutrition, given a passing glance during the Freshman Health and Safety Course. The third aspect, however, is not only ignored, but compromised by the Granite Bay methodology: sleep. The average teenager requires about nine hours of sleep a night; for students that must wake up at six in the morning, a nine o’clock bedtime is practically impossible . These lost hours of sleep accumulate into what is known as sleep debt: every hour of nightly sleep less than your individual requirement builds up into your running total. This sleep debt causes drowsiness, ineffective work habits, physical deterioration and a lack of overall welfare. What most high school students do not realize, however, is that the sleep debt doesn’t simply just disappear on its own after a period of time. The only way that sleep debt, and being consistently tired, can be overcome is by making up the lost hours of sleep. Each and every one of them. Reports of test subjects who have erased their sleep debt show a profound increase in happiness, performance, and well-being. Isn’t that a better edge for the AP Tests than a few extra hours of cramming?
And speaking of cramming—the academic ritual of prepping into the early hours of the morning can be a bigger waste of time than students think. A recently released report authored by Marcos Frank, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that memories and recall are only properly formed during sleep . Certain scientific changes occur in the brain during this period that allow connection between neurons to form and information to be properly stored. To the average student—this means that those last names and dates memorized at two in the morning are never truly stored nor accessible, making them easy to forget during a difficult exam. Writing an essay about the topics will be even more difficult; without properly stored concepts, making connections in the mind is almost impossible. It is no coincidence that pulling the ceremonial “all-nighter” has an adverse effect on performance: both procrastination and cramming are heavily correlated with a significantly lower GPA . So to students who must choose whether to do some last minute studying before waking up for early morning cross-country, water polo, or band practice, or getting some sleep, the advice is simple: hit the hay and wake up with a firm grasp of most concepts, rather than a groggy recollection of all the concepts.
But the lack of sleep created by larger homework loads and early morning classes has created one last, even greater danger to students and young adults. The National High Traffic Safety Administration found that, on average, drowsiness and fatigue causes an estimated 100,000 automobile crash fatalities each year, which half of victims being young drivers . Heightened by the sense that they are “the only driver on the road,” high school students drive recklessly through streets before dawn, only increasing their risk of injury. I myself have been guilty of rolling through a few stop signs on the way to 0 period Marching Band rehearsal, and count myself among the lucky ones. Driving through feelings of sleepiness, heavy eyelids, and nodding off are never safe options. As Dr. William Dement, noted Stanford Professor and the discoverer of REM Sleep, always tells his class, “Drowsiness is Red Alert!” It is better to pull off the road for a few minutes to regain composure and wakefulness rather than continue driving in hazardous conditions and putting one’s life at risk. If a student has pulled an all-nighter and has to drive to school early, why not ask a parent to drive in the morning? While the concept may seem a little “uncool” to a high school senior, isn’t it a bit more appealing than the possible risks of the alternative?
What is obvious is that the school systems are not going to change anytime in the near future: 0 period classes will still exist to push students out of bed earlier and earlier, piles of homework will always need to be done late into the night, and there will always be exams to be studied for. Students can learn to manage this, however. Continued weeks of tiredness can only be solved by extra sleep, so why not take it? The few hours will lead to greater levels of happiness, performance, and safety. And always remember...drowsiness IS red alert.