Sleep Deprivation in Ward Melville

Steven Orland, Staff Writer

Ward Melville High School houses over a thousand students on a daily basis, each following a unique schedule while keeping up with coursework and after-school activities. The student population is constantly mobile, and with midterms approaching, the pressure is not letting up. However, the influence the school schedule has on kids’ lives, regardless of the time of year, may also be controlling their personal schedule; in particular, their bedtimes. 

It’s no secret that sleep deficiency plays a role in the lives of students, one that doesn’t just affect high-schoolers. “Sleep is critical for the human body to function well.  A large amount of our students, and a lot of people in society have a lack of it,” says Head Nurse Ms. Gonzalez, who treats students weekly for sleep deprivation-related health concerns. These concerns are not only the direct result of less sleep, but also that of students’ decision-making.

“In addition to kids getting 8-10 hours of sleep, less sports, less time with the phone, less homework time, things like that would help,” psychology teacher Mr. Wilson says. Habits related to cell phone use are popular among students. “People need to stay away from social media.  It’s easy to get caught up in it and waste time,” sophomore Riley Meckley says. Social media use is only one of many factors that contribute to sleep deprivation among students.

Scientific studies in recent years have suggested a natural tendency among high-schoolers to fall asleep later. A 2017 study found that “as children progress into their teenage years, they experience … a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to teenagers … typically struggling to fall asleep before 11:00.” The biological sleep habits of kids might lead to a general decrease in sleep on school nights, since “their normal sleep cycle should be 11 to 9 o’clock,” says Spanish teacher Mr. Dwyer.

The prominence of sleep deficiency in Melville could be attributed to another factor: the school’s starting time. While it may be easy to point fingers at the 7 AM warning bell, it cannot be readily changed by students.  “Even though school every day is early, it’s a fixed factor in our life. There are other factors that we need to adjust,” Gonzalez says. These aspects of students’ lives are largely related to prioritization.  

Maintaining a balance between social life and schoolwork is difficult for students, as is balancing schoolwork with sleep. “You can’t have a life and also have an adequate sleep schedule,” Meckley says. Without the latter, students face symptoms like “headaches and stomach aches,” Gonzalez says. The lack of sleep also has an impact on students’ mental health and alertness.  

Ward Melville’s bell schedule requires students to concentrate during classes earlier than 9 AM, which doesn’t come easily for some.  “My second period seems to have more difficulties than sixth and seventh based on how early the period starts,” Dwyer says. The conditions students are in during these classes do not improve focus, as sleep deficiency “causes a lot of people to overeat and it decreases their quality of functioning and activity,” says Gonzalez.

Getting enough sleep nightly may be challenging for some kids, which is a major factor in sleep deficiency. “You need 8-10 hours of sleep, which is physically impossible for students to get,” Meckley says. The readily available distractions for students may also contribute to the lack of sleep. “They just have to reprioritize … shut down the phones, not watch TV, and [have] no caffeine after a certain point,” Gonzalez says. 

In spite of the challenges students face daily, from distractions to an intense course load, some feel sleep deprivation is less severe of an issue than others do. “ [Students] fall asleep [during my class] once a month,” Wilson says. In the past few months, Wilson has also found that “in terms of staying on task, my 2nd period is better than my 9th period class.” However, this does not mean all morning classes are a breeze for students. “The kids appear to be less cognitively alert [2nd period] compared to the rest of the periods,” says Dwyer.  

While numerous factors weigh into the problem of sleep deprivation in Melville, some believe these can be reversed, and changes could be made. “Focus in on fixing the first issue: a schedule that is aligned with students’ sleep schedule,” Dwyer says. This would require incentive on behalf of the administration. “I think the school should be more aware about what’s going on,” Meckley says.  No significant adjustments to the bell schedule have been made in years. 

Remaining an important issue in Ward Melville, sleep deprivation could be attributed to factors both in and out of students’ control. It has effects on their overall well-being, both mentally and physically, many of which can be alleviated through student and school efforts. Even though it may be difficult for students, getting enough sleep is, Gonzalez says, “like eating well; sleep should be one of those core activities that’s prioritized.”