The need for sleep

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

We’re all too familiar with this question. This seemingly innocent question carries an underlying intimidating tone. But we’re not trying to see who slept the most, we’re trying to see who slept the least. There is an unspoken competition among students about the amount of sleep we get. The less sleep you get, the more diligent you appear as a student because more time is spent being productive.

A recent post on the WHS Confessions Facebook page described the difficulties of balancing academics and extracurriculars with health. The post describes the struggles of students trying to cram school, studying, extracurriculars and physical activity all the while trying to get a healthy amount of sleep. However, the calculations showed that our schedules simply do not fit within the 24-hour day. The fact that the confession post received popular support among fellow students shows that there is a problem with the school’s culture regarding the importance of grades. We have a tendency to overvalue the letter grades we receive.

As an IB student, this could not be more true. Although I receive an average of six hours of sleep per night, a comparably decent amount among IB students, this still falls below the amount recommended by health professionals. At the same time, I carry an unnecessary sense of guilt whenever I complain about my tiredness even though I should be getting more sleep in the first place.

Nine to 10 hours of sleep in addition to an hour of physical activity is required to maintain a healthy lifestyle; however, the reality fails to meet the requirement. What we fail to realize are the long-term effects of our sleep deprivation: more stress, impaired concentration and memory, an increase in negative thought processes and a weaker immune system. There’s a belief that we can always repay our sleep debt in the future and we end up focusing on that one test or grade in the here and now. But when the number of A’s becomes more important than the amount of sleep we get, it’s time to reassess our priorities — why should we value grades over health? When comparing the unconfirmed high score and the confirmed effects of losing sleep, it seems inconceivable that we still choose to stay up studying when our bodies tell us otherwise.

It’s inevitable that we will have rigorous and demanding schedules. It’s inevitable that we will lose sleep in our high school careers, although teachers do try to be mindful of the amount of homework assigned. The issue isn’t that we have too much to do in too little time or that the school is being unfair. It’s our unhealthy mentality that less sleep elicits more benefits such as productivity. There shouldn’t be a sense of guilt when one student gets more sleep than another. If anything, there should be a sense of ownership with getting enough sleep.

In hindsight, we often realize how trivial our worries are and that our sleep deprivation isn’t something to be proud of after its consequences are revealed. Yes, we don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, but no, we shouldn’t leave it that way. It’s time to stop remaining passive about our tiredness and realize the consequences of our lack of sleep. We need to fully acknowledge the long-term benefits of sleep and its ability to help us, not inhibit us.

By Anita Chuen, Manager