Students and teachers fight against sleep deprivation

A lack of sleep affects students’ mental and physical health, but there are ways to combat it by improving your bedtime routine.

Olivia Heller, Journalism student

The classroom is warm and cozy. The girl’s seat remains hidden in the back corner. The teacher’s voice fades into the background as the students’ mind slips into oblivion. The conditions are perfect for a quick nap. So perfect that Ella Haluko, a junior at Central, can’t resist the temptation to let her eyes flutter shut. For a few moments, Ella is in complete bliss. 

Until, of course, she lands face-first on the floor, with everyone now laughing at her. So much for a nice nap. 

Sleep deprivation among teenagers is common in this day and age. It’s hard to find a high school student who gets a good night of sleep every day. And when you don’t get enough sleep at night, it will be difficult to focus, much less do your classwork. In addition to this, a lack of sleep not only affects a student’s academic performance but it can severely damage their mental health. 

Research shows, according to, that teenagers need between 8 to 10 hours of sleep in order to maintain both ideal physical and mental health. Yet by 2019, around 89 percent of teens have reported bad sleep. And it’s not just professionals who have realized the consequences of bad sleep. The kids are aware of it as well.

It was kind of sad that I was letting school take such a large control of my life that I physically couldn’t keep myself awake.

— Ella Haluko, junior

Ella Haluko, for example, knows all too well the effect of sleep deprivation on teenagers. She truly believes that a lack of sleep can affect a student’s mental health. “I found that it’s harder to focus in class when I haven’t had enough sleep. And that can have a negative impact on my grades, which can really mess with my self-confidence,” she said. 

It seems to be a common thread among students that their grades start to suffer due to lack of sleep. This can result in symptoms of depression and low self-esteem, adding to the large plate of problems teenagers already face. 

“When I fell out of my chair, I was lucky that my teacher found it funny. And so did my other classmates,” Ella flashes a bittersweet smile as she recalls the memory. “But at the same time, it was kind of sad that I was letting school take such a large control of my life that I physically couldn’t keep myself awake.” 

So the real question is, why are students getting such bad sleep at night? And why haven’t schools done anything to help?

Jaclyn Coppola, a student guidance counselor at Hunterdon Central, is able to shed light on these questions. Her 11 years of experience working with teenagers at Central gives her a vast perspective on both teachers’ and students’ lives. “School should start at a later time. It’s a scientific fact,” she said. “Most teachers think so as well. But the problem arises with the bus schedule.”

Hunterdon Central shares buses with other schools, making it hard to start later in the morning because it would lead to time conflicts. There aren’t enough bus drivers for each school to have its own bus fleet, and as long as that’s a problem, the school start time will stay as it is. It’s unfortunate, but don’t lose hope; there are things both teachers and students can do to help themselves.

When asked whether or not Ms. Coppola believed sleep was a factor in teenagers’ mental health, she replied, “100 percent.” A lack of sleep can worsen a person’s mental health or prompt conditions that contribute to both anxiety and depression, especially teenagers who are already vulnerable to mental health problems.  

It’s hard to relieve yourself of academic pressure and get more sleep, but Ella Halluko has some solutions that have really helped her. “Getting a planner to keep track of my homework and manage my time has really helped me get more sleep,” she says.

One of the most common reasons students don’t get enough sleep is because of the rigorous classes they take. So by creating specific time slots after school to work on each subject, Ella feels less anxious about all the work she has to do and gives her at least an extra hour of sleep. Of course, this doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. This tactic can only help so much, and this is where teachers come into play. 

“In order to create a healthy school environment, teachers and students need to work together.” Jaclyn Coppola believes. “Students need to put in the effort to at least complete parts of their work. On the other hand, teachers have to be understanding and keep in mind that teenagers have their own struggles that can conflict with their school work.”

Professionals seem to agree that the key to a teenager getting a good night’s sleep starts with the parents. “It’s important for your teen to go to bed as close as possible to the same time every night and get as close to 8 hours of sleep as possible. But it’s also important for him to stick to the same schedule—within reason—on the weekends,” Child Mind Institute says.

Parents need to set an example for their children to follow, but it’s hard to do this and keep your child from getting upset.

There are alternatives to strictly taking a teenager’s electronics or imposing a strict curfew. One way they can help their child get an easier sleep at night is enabling Night Shift on the child’s phone at the same hour every night. This prevents the intense blue light of phones from stimulating the teenager’s brain while also compromising their teenager’s wishes to use their electronics freely. There are also apps you can download that fulfill this same purpose, such as F.Lux. Both these techniques can help maintain a teenager’s sleep schedule while also making it easier to fall asleep at night. 

In the end, it’s very important to acknowledge how a teenager’s lack of sleep can affect the school environment. It not only causes issues for them but for teachers as well.

Everyone has their own part to play in order to improve the mental health of Hunterdon Central students as a whole. While this is a large goal, it has to start somewhere. And it can begin by helping students get enough sleep at school, even if it’s only an extra 20 minutes.  

Ella hopes that one day, maybe in the years to come, she, along with everyone else at Central, will be able to improve their mental health by getting more sleep. After all, falling out of your chair in the middle of class can be quite embarrassing.