Distance learning disrupts MCHS student sleep schedules

Image by Prensa staff

by Krysti Shore, staff writer

Distance learning has affected many aspects of what we once perceived as a normal education experience. There are many changes students have learned to adapt to, but the importance of a healthy sleeping pattern may be an essential component students have begun to neglect.  

A pattern I have noticed among my friends and me is we all have developed the habit of staying up excessively late. This is odd because one would think that a student who has to get ready in the morning, physically attend multiple classes throughout the day until 3:30 p.m., devote time to completing multiple homework assignments, and possibly participate in extra sports or clubs would actually be receiving more sleep than a student attending Maria Carrillo High School online this year. Many seniors I know complain of the lack of sleep they currently get, but they also have at least one free period and take more electives than academic classes, so it is hard to imagine how younger students who still need to complete required classes must be doing. Why are so many students losing sleep? 

I’m sure there are many factors that come into play when analyzing a student’s sleep pattern. For instance, whether or not they have a job, how hard their classes are, whether or not they participate in extracurricular activities and more.

When interviewing MCHS junior Emily Richter, I was surprised to hear her say, “I think the amount of sleep I get has improved through distance learning, and it has forced me to manage my sleep schedule a bit more.” She claims to wake up as early as 6:00 a.m. and be in bed by 8:30 p.m. Even though Richter reports getting a fair amount of sleep, she also stated, “I do notice having far less energy than I once had. There will be days when I finish my school work for the day and realize I hardly have the energy to complete any other responsibilities, energy that I once had. Like, I will be grocery shopping and I almost can’t do it. I wonder where all my energy went!” 

It was interesting to see that even a student with a healthy sleep schedule still experiences energy deprivation due to distance learning. Is this because of the excessive amount of screen time we now all must participate in, not including additional phone and TV screen time due to the boredom quarantine brings? 

Beatrix Basuino, a junior, states, “There is so much to do, which becomes really stressful and overwhelming. I find myself staying up late in order to finish everything.” She also claimed to see a drastic decrease in her energy levels throughout the day and finds it hard to fall asleep at night. She claims she usually wakes up around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m and goes to sleep anytime from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. 

But I didn’t just want a students perspective, so I talked to Gale Ligotti, biology and zoology teacher, who had a lot to say on the matter. When I asked if distance learning has affected her sleep schedule, she said, “Yes, horribly. I can’t go to sleep before one in the morning anymore… I’m finding myself going to bed later and later, and a lot of it has to do with the workload. As many hours as I put in a day, there just aren’t enough to get class material ready in time.” When comparing her schedule to last year’s, she says she feels a lack of energy when going about her day and that she believes screen time does affect her lack of sleep.

 I do believe screen time plays a big role in affecting students’ energy levels as well as their ability to maintain positive sleeping habits. When comparing the interviews of Richter and Basuino, Richter claimed to often limit her screen time as well as put down her phone and computer at least an hour before bed, which has helped her to easily slumber, while Beatrix does not do these things and finds it hard to fall asleep at a reasonable time. This is because blue light from our computer screens, phones, tablets and televisions suppress melatonin levels in the brain, preventing us from becoming tired enough to fall asleep. 

It feels like there is less responsibility since we no longer have to physically attend class and most classes are cut short, allowing us to hold off our assignments.

For example, I noticed during the summer that I always have the worst sleep pattern, not because I am bombarded with plans, but because I take advantage of the fact that I have no responsibilities, which then leads to excessively scrolling through social media night after night as well as watching ten hours of YouTube videos a day. I think in a way this concept applies to students this year. It feels like there is less responsibility since we no longer have to physically attend class and most classes are cut short, allowing us to hold off our assignments.

Before the 50’s, people perceived sleep as a period in which the body and brain remain dormant, but it turns out when we are asleep, our brain is actually engaging in numerous activities essential to replenishing the body while secreting a more positive physical and mental performance for us the next day. Throughout sleep the brain typically interacts in four different cycles, but boils down to two specific cycles known as rapid eye movement, or REM, and non-rapid eye movement. What takes place during these two stages are drastically different, which is why scientists consider these to be the two main cycles of sleep.

The period of REM is associated with our most intense dreams as well as stimulation to areas of the brain essential in learning and making and retaining memories. Each and every step of our sleeping cycle is important. 

  Just like the way we crave food, our bodies need and crave the right amount of sleep. What happens when one loses sleep is these stages that take place during our resting hours are short circuited which affect our energy levels, the way we think, memory consolidation, ability to concentrate, as well as our mood. Sleep is critical to physical and mental development, especially in teens because our minds are growing at such a rapid pace that the right amount of sleep is required to develop efficiently and completely. Sleep deprivation can increase a teen’s risk of inability to concentrate, poor grades and even anxiety and depression. The recommended amount of sleep a teenager from age 13 to 18 should receive is at least eight to 10 hours a night, but the longer the better.

The record for the longest amount of time without sleep is 11 days. That is a hard record to beat, but I would not suggest anyone attempt to surpass it at home. Overall, I think distance learning remains a hard lifestyle to get used to, and whether or not a student gets the right amount of sleep all depends on their ability to balance school time with personal time and responsibilities. But, as always, there are things we must learn to adapt to, and perhaps over time distance learning will encourage students to make their schedules more productive with the freedom given.

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