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The Hidden World of Sleep and Stress

by jumpingsheep

Time doesn’t seem to add up.

I spend seven hours in school a day and at least an hour getting ready for and driving to school. I spend, on average, two hours after school per day, although some days I’ll be at the school for an additional six hours. I get about six hours of homework per night, a little less than an hour per class. This amount tends to increase if I have a project or studying to do.

I try to get six hours of sleep a night although usually I’m pulling four or five.

I spend an hour a day on chores and other family obligations.

If you haven’t done the math already, that adds up to about twenty-three hours.

I have one hour in my day left.

That leaves an hour to work on college applications, have a job, take care of personal care and hygiene, eat, take care of pets, exercise, learn how to drive, study for standardized tests, do volunteer work (it'll look good on those college applications!), and maybe, if the stars all align, I’ll be able to have a social life, or do activities that I actually want to do.

Now, I know I’m just one drop in an ocean of students, one lone voice in a choir, but I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this simple arithmetic.

Sleep Is For The Weak

Sleep is a hot commodity at my school. And, if you can’t brag about how much you slept the night before, you’ll brag about how little you slept. It’s become a social status point of some sorts.

“You’ll never believe it, I got seven hours last night!”

“What?! How?! I got three. Let’s hear it for ‘team no sleep!”

Through the hallways and the lunch tables, students discuss covert ways of getting shut-eye during class, or in quiet places around the school. It’s not uncommon to find students trying to get hall passes to the nurse’s office so that they can sleep in peace.  Kids speak of their crazed sleep schedule, some stopping homework at 10:00 PM, where they then sleep for five hours until 3:00 AM, where they wake up, finish their homework, and go to school.

According to the Sleep Foundation, teens need about eight to ten hours of sleep per night. Only about 15% of teens make this amount every night. Like I said earlier, I’m pulling about half that amount, and I make an effort to get enough sleep.

While many parents and teachers across the nation point fingers at cell phones, for example, my personal experience has led me to believe that on weeknights, it is not technology keeping teenagers awake, but homework. A common refrain echoed through the hallways is “I have more work that I actually have time to do it.”

Caffeine has become a lifestyle, a quick way to get a kick before first period starts at 7:33 AM. Teens are guzzling it down, many kids at my school toting around large 32 ounce water bottles filled with lukewarm coffee. There’s a kid in my Spanish class who downs a Mountain Dew every morning, and another in my friend’s first period history class who chugs an entire Monster Energy before the Pledge of Allegiance.

The side effects of caffeine consumption are alarming. According to, this stimulant can create a higher risk for heart attacks in young adults, along with a host of other heart problems. Not only that, but caffeine can also put users at risk for ulcers, infertility, and a greater dependence on caffeine.

The real problems start when teens are ready to go to bed, many teens finding that they simply can’t fall asleep when they want to. As a result, over-the-counter sleep medications have become a trend at my school.

This cycle of lost sleep now places students in a precarious position where they need a drug to wake up, and another to fall asleep. Many are dependent on these aides, a dependency that could last a lifetime.

Sleep deprivation has become an epidemic of sorts in high schools, and this is only the tip of a much deeper, and darker iceberg.

The Push to Succeed

The American lifestyle is more competitive than ever. Standardized tests have turned education into a rat race filled with points, scores, and ranks. Students are constantly comparing class ranks and GPA’s trying to assure themselves that they’re keeping up, that they’re not falling behind.

This type of environment breeds a high level of anxiety and stress, sometimes pushing students to extreme lengths. Among the AP-level students last year, it was well established that there was an underground substance ring that was utilized by stressed out scholars.

In one day last year, I encountered two different students having mental breakdowns. Actual mental breakdowns, in which they completely fell apart, due to the stress that was being piled on them.

It was a few months ago that me and my friends were sitting around a bonfire following a dance at my school. We talked about the usual, relationships, the latest Twitter update, but we soon fell into the subject of school, and the stress and pressure we had all been feeling. It was then that one teenager, about fifteen years old, came forward about a class that had pushed him too far.

It was his favorite class, one that he had dedicated himself to, but the teacher was demanding, pushing him and pushing him until…

“I almost did it guys. Twice, actually. I was that close.”

“To what?”

“You know. Taking my life.”

We fell into a stunned silence, as the fire crackled away. This kid wasn’t chronically depressed, nor did he have a history of suicidal behaviors. And yet, the stress and pressure he had felt had pushed him far too close to the edge. Other stories started coming out that night, of near-attempts, and those who had tried it, but thankfully lived to tell the tale.

That night, I felt like I had stumbled into a dark underworld, where stories like these were all too common, and quickly swept under the rug.

Later that weekend, I received a text from a friend saying that someone we knew was in the hospital. The family thought it may have been an overdose.

Later on, an attempt was ruled out (they suspected that it was an accident) but the stomach dropping feeling of receiving a message like the one I had lingered with me, as a grim reminder of what could have been.

Because the scariest part of the situation wasn’t that it happened. It was how fast we moved past denying it was an attempt. We all knew it was far too likely.

One girl in my English class last year provided a haunting testimony into what she called “The Real Secret Lives of American Teenagers”. There, she delved into the online world, where some teens feel more alive there than they do when they are disconnected. However, as I discovered the night I spent at the bonfire, there are secrets to this new and innovative digital world that we live in.

The girl in my class talked about the online friends she’s has, and her relationships with people she’s never been able to meet in real life. However, one particular line has stuck with me for almost two years now.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up until four in the morning trying to talk someone out of suicide.”

At that moment, the classroom fell into a stony silence. Because no student is equipped to be a therapist in such a dire moment. No student should have to be a therapist. And yet, who else will step up if they don’t? Who else, besides a student’s peers, will hear their cries for help and see the warning signs?

In my experience, the family does not read the signs.

The school does not read the signs, either.

A survey from the Washington, D.C.-based American Psychological Association found that teens that mirror adults’ high stress levels are “potentially setting themselves up for a future of chronic stress and chronic illness”. Michael Bradley, a psychologist specializing in teens was quoted as saying “…I will fall back on the fact that hard numbers tell us kids are more anxious and depressed than they've ever been."

I can’t tell you how many of my friends have suffered mentally over the past four years in high school, and I’m sure there are many more that I don’t know about. This propensity is alarming, actually, quite frankly, terrifying.

Where are We Going?

These heightened levels of anxiety and stress can be affected by lack of sleep, which is a result of the demands put in place by schools today. In the end, students are stuck in vicious cycles that cannot be broken unless change is made, and quickly.

Coming from a student who has lived through more than three years of low sleep and high stress, I want to make clear how urgent this problem we face is. Too many friends of mine have fallen from the chipper freshmen they once were, to exhausted seniors who are praying to make it to the bell without falling asleep.

Being a teenager is already stressful, as we take on more adult responsibilities, navigate the complicated relationships in a high school, and try to make sense of the world around us.  I didn't even touch on other sources of stress a teenager may encounter, such as financial, family, health, or social.

Schools should be a safe haven, not a fortress of dread. When will the we realize that there is a problem with our teens and the demands being placed on us? We need better counseling and a better educator understanding of just how fast workloads pile up.

We are far from lazy, and I am not one to complain of high-demands. But there are days I miss meals to do work, or days where my eyes will start watering on the way to school, because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or the night before that, or the night before that.

It’s not a matter of work ethic, but rather simply, health.

How many more will be lost before this problem is faced head on?

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1080 Reviews

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Thu Feb 18, 2016 1:44 am
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Mea wrote a review...

Hey there! I can't believe nobody else has reviewed this yet - I guess that's because it's just that good.

So, yeah - I really like this, and it definitely struck a chord with me. I think almost every teenager can relate to this. Plus, it was laid out and supported really well.

Let's start with your introduction. It's engaging and it grabs me, and I like the device of the math problem to illustrate the issue.

However, I feel that you're overstating it just slightly, and that weakens your argument a bit. In particular, I find it implausible that you have almost six hours of homework every night. Drop that down to four or five, and I think it will be more plausible while still getting the point across.

Also, I think it's worth mentioning that this: "and maybe, if the stars all align, I’ll be able to have a social life, or do activities that I actually want to do" is also something I thought didn't work quite as well. Basically, it makes it sound just a bit whiney (and teenagers already have enough problems with getting adults to listen to us), and more often than not, the hours spent after school are spent on band or sports or other things that you do want to do, even if it is work. It's just a small thing, but it does undermine your argument a little bit.

The main other thing I would like here is sources. You have a fairly good blend of statistics and anecdotes (though I might suggest maybe a little more statistics and slightly fewer anecdotes), but you're missing sources for a lot of those statistics, which also undermines your argument.

One main place I'd like some statistics is the part where you talk about how all the kids drink caffeinated stuff to stay awake. I know, from experience, that this is true, but statistics would help support it better.

Statistics/facts that lack sources or need backing up:

Only about 15% of teens make this amount every night.

Among the AP-level students last year, it was well established that there was an underground substance ring that was utilized by stressed out scholars.

The American lifestyle is more competitive than ever

It's a probably true generalization, but sweeping statements need something to back it up.

The school does not read the signs, either.

You say this, then immediately go on to talk about one psychologist who does see the signs. Can you see why that's a bit of a whiplash? Maybe provide a better transition or give examples of how the schools don't see it.

The one last thing I will say is that although this essay is very good, the ending felt a little bit lacking. Just exposing the problem is needed, but we also need solutions, and just ending on "how long will it take us to solve this" without offering any solutions could come across as someone who doesn't want to fix things themselves just being whiney. (Which I know is not the case.) So maybe try to come up with some basic suggestions, things that schools could start doing to reduce the workload.

And that's all I've got for you! Thanks for this great essay!

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Sun Jan 03, 2016 12:52 pm
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miriamgall says...

This struck a massive chord with me. I completely agree with everything you said, especially the part about talking people out of suicide. I have kept up many online friendships with people, not because I enjoy talking to them or ever did, but because they are in such a perilous state and I am not willing to switch off my phone and ignore them, for fear that that might be the action that pushes them over the edge. The majority are rude, hostile and disinterested towards me. They don't care about my wellbeing and never ask about anything going on in my life. But they continue to start conversations with me and I cannot bring myself to push them away, because if I don't help them, who will? Nobody is listening.

jumpingsheep says...

I completely hear what you're saying @miriamgall !
And I don't think there's any one party to blame, or one easy solution, but I think it's all part of a larger problem. What do you think?

I know people in a similar situation as you described and I agree that it's a tough spot to be put in, especially when you feel like no one else is listening.

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Wed Dec 16, 2015 2:23 am
Pretzelstick wrote a review...

Hello. ~

So I wanted to start off with thank you so much for writing this article, and expressing what we all experience during those high school years. This article seems to be portrayed in a very accurate way, that is actually relatable to what happens in real daily school-life, and so I do appreciate that. There are just a couple of small concerns that I will cover because I thought that they could be slightly tweaked.

Time doesn’t seem to add up.

I don't think that time is just a mathematical problem; because the way that you have described it in the first paragraph seems to suggest it in that way. You could simply list out all of your obligations, and say that you only have 1 hour of the day left. I kind of felt like that intro. was forced, since it was set up in a math-list kind of way, and as you explain later that time is so much more valuable in high school point than ever before.

Now, I know I’m just one drop in an ocean of students, one lone voice in a choir,

This is pretty cliche to say, tbh, but I don't really understand why you are even writing this essay. Even though you are just one student, every single student can make a difference, and if you write a sentence like that without finishing it confidently, it kind of lets your readers know that you know that only one person (you) wrote this article, and like it's not going to affect anyone.

Let’s hear it for ‘team no sleep!”

I really like how symbolic that line is. In my reviews, I try to point out my favorite line and this is probably it! Slightly amused, but very worried about this big "team" of teenagers.

Kids speak of their crazed sleep schedule, some stopping homework at 10:00 PM, where they then sleep for five hours until 3:00 AM, where they wake up, finish their homework, and go to school.

Oh, I think here that you should also include a little bit of someother examples of sleep schedules, (just ask around) so that an audience member who isn't in high school, can still get a pretty general understanding of the time-frame and hours which they are sleeping in.

As a side note, my English teacher and I were just talking about this, but you really should stay away from using personal prounouns(I, we, you) in articles and essays because they will reduce the professionalism of your essay. I don't know if that's something that you want to go back and do, or if you actually like it this way in 1st person. Either way, whichever you choose, it's fine, I actually just brought this up if in case you decided to show it to a "professional" or something like that.

The side effects of caffeine consumption are alarming. According to,

I like that you are giving personal experiences, but I think that you could include more research in it, except just how much caffeine or other beverages teens drink a day or such. I'm not sure if there are specific studies to that, but you should definitively so and research it, just so that you can be more informed and inform us all about it. I see that you have cited what caffeine does to your body, but I would definitively appreciate more info as a reader.

Later that weekend,

Later on,an attempt was ruled out

I only just now noticed this while closely-examining this text, and what I noticed that that in the span of two sentences, you actually repeated later for the same situation that you are describing here. I would suggest that you find and use a different transition word, like "Clearly" or "Ultimately"

I can’t tell you how many of my friends

This is practically invalidating this statement, and I know that "I can't tell you" is pretty cliche, but still the point of the matter is that if you do that then noone can really grasp what number or even estimate.

I didn't even touch on other sources of stress a teenager may encounter, such as financial, family, health, or social.

It’s not a matter of work ethic, but rather simply, health.

This is the last place where I see that you have already contradicted yourself. Because in our of your last sentence you literally stated that this in fact is a health problem. The easy way to just fix that is to erase "health" from that list of things that you supposedly didn't touch on.

How many more will be lost before this problem is faced head on?

That last sentence really hit the ball home, and I think this was an extremely well done and strong ending here. It makes the readers and audiences think, and gives them food for a thought on how they should address this complicated problem.

Overall, I think that this is written in an informal type of way, since you do use your experience, which although it makes it more personal to us, mostly young writers, you could also maybe have another separate draft with no personal pronouns so that it looks more professional to those. I could totally understand where your coming from(personal experience) but I would suggest just having a tad bit more research with credible sources to back this up.

Thank you again, and I hope that this review really did help you improve this essay. ;)


jumpingsheep says...

Thank you for the review Pretzel! I'll take a look/fix at some of the notes you made!

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Tue Dec 15, 2015 9:43 am
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TahaT11n says...

Worsening surviving capacity in order to strengthen surviving capacity.

That's what I would call it in a sentence.

That's a wonderful and insightful essay. You have done a great job. But I feel that just getting appreciation for writing this won't make you feel that good unless you can do something to put a pause to this or at least lessen it.

But what can we do? We have to survive. We have to go through this to "survive"

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Mon Dec 14, 2015 5:44 pm
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Thank you for posting this
Thank you for posting this
Thank you for posting this

Seriously. I think you've hit the nail on the head- for a lot of people.

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Fri Dec 11, 2015 5:36 pm
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Inspiredravens says...

Thank you for formulating this so well. I feel that just clicking the star at the top of the page isn't enough. Thank you for voicing all of our problems in a way that hopefully, with its logic and calm appeal, will someday reach the authorities over us. All I can say is thank you for writing this, and keep it up.

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Thu Dec 10, 2015 11:40 pm
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Skydreamer says...

*Whispers* You should get this published. (If you haven't already) Really good essay!

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Thu Dec 10, 2015 7:26 am
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Storygirl95 says...

Wow, this is truly amazing. I know I'm supposed to say something wise and helpful, but all I can muster is consternation. You have NO idea how much I relate. OR maybe you do.

Also, this sometimes applies to college too. While you can arrange your schedule sometimes so you have later classes, it isn't always this way. The homework is still piled on. You have even more adult responsibilities. Not to say high schoolers don't have their own problems, because they sure do. I think it's an equal amount of stress for both.

Anyway. I just had to say it. You've done a phenomenal job here. I applaud you.

Now if only we can show this to all the school boards. It probably wouldn't change though . . .

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346 Reviews

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Wed Dec 09, 2015 4:00 am
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Pretzelstick says...

It's really scary at the rate your health can decline during high school. Such low sleep and high stress. I agree with the points that you made here. Thank you for writing this,and giving a voice to the concerns.

Pretzelstick says...

Do you want me to review it for you possible? Because even though you have 6 comments you have 0 reviews, so I was just wondering if you actually were requesting review. ^^ please let me know!

jumpingsheep says...

I would love any reviews/critiques that anyone may have!

Pretzelstick says...

I posted it. To be clear, I already worked on it before.

Half the work that is done in this world is to make things appear what they are not.
— Elias Root Beadle