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Student Exhaustion

Abraham sleepy photo 24

A G.H.S. Advanced Placement student dozes off during class due to lack of sleep. Photograph by Abraham Carrillo.

Exhaustion in the Classroom

By Abraham Carrillo

    In today's fast-paced world, students often juggle multiple responsibilities, from classes and assignments to extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. It's no wonder why many students feel overwhelmed and exhausted. This over-exhaustion in our young generation causes a large majority not to be able to sleep the necessary hours nightly. These students, tired of coming in every morning for school, can sometimes have negative drawbacks that can affect their mental health in the form of depression, anxiety, etc.  Despite the large amount of damage that has already been done to today’s youth, there are still ways to help reverse, if not ease, the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.

What’s All the Yawn About?

The problem with finding the root cause for student fatigue is that there is no root cause. The truth is there are a variety of factors which make students feel exhausted when coming to school. In a recent article on school burnout, Donald Deshler, the founder of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, goes into detail one some of the main causes of what he calls, “a state of mental, physical, or emotional exhaustion.” One academic factor which targets the psyche pointed out by Deshler is that not all students take the same amount of time to complete tasks. It’s obvious that some students learn certain subjects faster than others and while this may be good for the quick learner, the “slow and steady” students will have to work much harder to catch up to their peers or risk falling behind. Sometimes, these students overwork themselves to the point of complete exhaustion. Another influencing factor, this time linked to a student’s emotions, Dr. Deshler describes is a student’s level of self-esteem. Students that feel inferior to others academically, become less motivated to do their work, thinking they will never be as good or as fast as their peers, and can lead to them taking longer than usual on their assignments, further affecting their self-esteem. Some students can genuinely lose sleep over the decline in their performance, and sleep loss is yet another contributor to student exhaustion.

     To better understand the exhausted student body, The Bruin’s Eye interviewed a G.H.S. student who fits most if not all criteria of a star pupil. This class of 2024 scholar takes five Advanced Placement (AP) classes, is currently a winter athlete, and hopes to enroll at a U.C. after graduation. Preferring to stay anonymous, the high-achieving student tells a tale of misery. When asked how he was able to juggle all his tasks at once, his response is that he constantly “fumbled” keeping track of them, adding “When I scramble to pick up one thing for a class and then another falls behind and in that constant fray, I lose [my] bearings on another obligation.” This G.H.S. student may ultimately meet his high school and college goals, but teenagers aren’t superhuman, and they shouldn’t be expected to effectively carry out too many tasks all at the same time. And it's clear the choice to be high achieving has affected the student’s wellbeing. He discloses, “A good night's sleep is basically foreign [to me] at this point. The sheer number of assignments and athletic responsibilities makes it difficult to take my consciousness out of school.”

Abraham student Work PhotoPictured is the average work load for a single AP class.
Photograph by Abraham Carrillo.

Other students who share similar responsibilities feel the same way: too overworked to sleep. Or, when they eventually do sleep, they wake up too tired to carry out said responsibilities. In a survey of Greenfield High students given by The Bruin’s Eye, various students anonymously stated their opinions on student exhaustion. One wrote, “Almost every AP student is mentally tired and burnt out, especially seniors.” Another wrote, “If I get tired or overloaded in just one class it affects the rest of my day as I feel I don’t want to do anything else.” For some students, the current semester has gotten to the point where they are downright tired of going to school. Another student writes, “Sometimes I don’t show up to school because I’m so drained because of schoolwork.” Student exhaustion comes from workloads and not being able to work off a tiredness deficit that keeps compounding. Moreover, the need for rest and sleep isn’t minuscule but rather vast spreading throughout the school and infecting all students from freshmen to seniors. While this problem may seem like a short-term issue as we approach the end of the Fall School semester, sleep deprivation produces lasting health effects on an individual. 

The Impact of Sleep Loss on Our Wellbeing

    The most important variable in the student fatigue equation is sleep. The CDC, which is the national public health agency of the United States, recommends on their official website that teen needs to sleep for a healthy 8-10 hours per night. Despite this, the CDC also reports a remarkable 73% of high school students who don’t get their recommended hours. While students' exhaustion is a problem in and of itself, it also could be a cause for multiple underlying health problems. The CDC reports that “Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk for many health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries.” Constant sleep loss can also be strenuous on a student’s mental health. Studies show that sleep deprivation among students can lead to insomnia, depression, and anxiety. An article by researchers at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry states, “Sleep helps maintain cognitive skills, such as attention, learning, and memory, such that poor sleep can make it much more difficult to cope with even relatively minor stressors and can even impact our ability to perceive the world accurately.” It can cause students to have negative emotional reactions to what stresses them, such as a student being too tired to complete homework or a student yelling at his parents after being asked to do a task when they are already under enough strain. This can lead to a student doing worse in school and having failed social relationships. Sending teenagers on an unending downward spiral as the less sleep they get, the worse they do in school, the more poorly they react towards the people and situations around them, and eventually, they will become husks of their former selves, too tired to try to fix their problems which can make them depressed. 

    Sleep deprivation can harm students in the long run, and they should stray from ever making cuts to their sleep schedule. But maybe it’s too difficult for a person to try fixing their schedule. Maybe they think there’s nothing they can do about it. Thankfully, research today can help them better understand their sleep cycle and guarantee they rest properly.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, Here’s How To Sleep Right!

    Sleeping can be a real struggle sometimes. Some days it feels like a person hasn’t slept enough, and other days they feel like they’ve slept too much. And it's not always easy to wake up feeling happy and refreshed, as most people today end up hating waking up in the morning. On the bright side, there are ways individuals can improve their sleep and wake up feeling more energized and ready to take on the day.

    The most obvious way to get a good night’s sleep is by forming a daily and nightly schedule. To find an example of what good time management is, The Bruin's Eye interviewed Hugo Rosiles, a top-class senior active in five AP classes and sports like cross country and basketball. Hugo’s daily schedule consists of going to school, basketball practice, homework, etc., until eventually he gets his 8 hours of sleep. When asked how he can plan his day accordingly, he explains his motivation to do so is because “I like to think about all the fun and better things I could be doing either with family or sports.” He further explains how some people can’t conform to a schedule. “It’s not a matter of motivation, it’s a matter of circumstance,” Hugo elegantly clarifies, “People go through different things or have to work through schedules.” Of course, not everyone can accurately manage their time, as various external factors can throw off a schedule, from an appointment being set back or a late arrival at school because of traffic. Thankfully, there is another way to try and get decent sleep, and that is by taking advantage of the REM cycle.

    Despite initially being discovered in 1953 by the renowned fathers of sleep research, Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky, there is still so much we don’t know about the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle. What we do know is that the REM cycle, which lasts around 70-120 minutes per cycle depending on the person, consists of four stages where one contains the rapid eye movement while a person sleeps, the REM stage; this is also the longest stage where people are most likely to dream in, as explained by Dr. Abhinav Singh, a sleep medicine physician. Dr. Singh explains that it is harder to wake up during this stage as a human’s body has already acclimated to deep sleep until the cycle starts again. Being the longest stage, this could be a reason why most people wake up tired regardless of how many hours of sleep they got. Dr. Singh offers a solution to this common problem: the first stage, despite usually only lasting 7 minutes, is also the stage where sleep is the lightest and a person is most prone to waking up. This explains why in certain instances when people sleep late, they can also wake up active and energetic, for a while at least. Therefore, by experimenting and learning an individual’s sleep cycle, they can eventually find a way to wake up at the exact time necessary to leave the bed without feeling like they’ve been hit by a truck.

    Drawing back to the survey, one anonymous student offered their solution to the problem, “I think there has to be a regulation on how much work is given or there should be a meeting on how much work is given to students and how much time they have [to complete it.] Teachers mostly only think of giving work for their classes instead of thinking how much homework students have for other classes.” And while it is possible for teachers to acknowledge the student exhaustion problem, at the end of the day they will probably choose to ignore it. For now, all we can do is take the advice and, as the first interviewee put it, “thug it out.”