It seems that for most high school students, stress is at the heart of the maelstrom of pressures. From homework to school clubs and sports to weekend activities, students may feel stressed constantly and may not get the amount of sleep they need. The worst-case scenario is that both are happening.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need at least 9.25 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. However, most teens don’t get the right amount of sleep. One study shows that only 15 percent of teens reported getting 8.5 hours of sleep on a school night.
Another study by the National Sleep Foundation has shown that not getting enough sleep can have a negative effect in a teenager’s life. It can lead to aggressive behavior, such as being angry with friends or impatient with teachers and parents. It can contribute to illness and make a person more prone to pimples. In addition, people who are sleep-deprived are as impaired as if they are driving with a .08 percent blood-alcohol level (the legal limit in Ohio). And sleep deprivation limits a person’s ability to listen, learn, concentrate and solve problems, adding to the stress from school.
According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, many teens feel as much or even more stress than adults do. Fifty-eight percent of teens surveyed said that they worry about things too much and 56 percent feel stressed out or anxious. As well as feeling stressed, many of the surveyed teens said that they felt hopeless about the future.
Students’ busy schedules are one of the factors that add to their stress. Even though it’s only the first semester, freshman Mercedez Pattan already feels the weight of school on her shoulders. “I’m a cheerleader, and I’m starting softball soon,” said Pattan. “I also have about 2½ hours of homework a night, so I have a lot of stress.”
Pattan says because of everything she’s involved in, she only gets five to six hours of sleep a night. “Of course there’s a connection between sleep and stress,” said Pattan. “When I don’t get enough sleep, I become more irritable, making it harder to balance activities. This makes me get less sleep, so this cycle keeps recurring.”
Sometimes school can engulf a student’s day. Some band students, such as junior Markie Mustard, know exactly how this feels. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have three hours of Color Guard practice after school,” said Mustard. “I also always have a ton of homework because of Spanish III and some of my other classes.”
Mustard says she gets less than five hours of sleep on an average school night and has a life full of stress. Mustard agrees with Pattan, also finding a connection between sleep and stress. “If you get enough sleep, your day is peaceful and relaxing. However, not getting enough sleep can make you rush to get everything done so you can get to sleep earlier, which adds stress.”
Sophomore Jenna Bevon sees yet another aspect that adds stress. “I think that a lack of sleep adds stress, but you can also become stressed if you aren’t prepared for tests,” said Bevon. It appears the dilemma for many students is that staying up late to prepare for tests causes stress, but so does heading into a test unprepared.
When students discuss what would lower their stress levels, the talk inevitably turns to a reduction in homework.
“If teachers gave less homework, it could help lower the stress and increase the amount of sleep that a student has,” said Mustard. “However, it is also up to the individual to go to bed at a decent time.”
While many students will complain about their teachers giving too much homework, Pattan doesn’t agree with them. “It’s not necessarily the teachers’ fault,” said Pattan. “They give you enough time in class to do it. Homework doesn’t always have to be done at home.”
Senior Cody Boothe acknowledges homework can play a role in the pressures students feel. “Depending on the amount and difficulty of homework that you have, there can be a lot more stress in your life,” he said.
Unlike his peers, however, Boothe doesn’t see the connection between a lack of sleep and increased stress. “It’s more relevant to how many other things are going on in your life,” said Boothe. “If you hang out with people who always need your help, it can take away from the amount of sleep you get and give you more stress.”
While there will always be stress in a person’s life, stress itself is not always a bad thing. “There is a healthy level of stress,” said Bevon. “It’s what pushes you to work hard and do well.”