Recently, Health Teacher Kristen Loftus has led efforts to promote the importance of sleep at Deerfield.
Ms. Loftus explained the importance and value of sleep: “Recent research [shows that] eight hours of sleep is so important as an adolescent in school, since during the last three hours, you are only getting REM sleep, which reinforces procedural memory while also getting a boost in your immune system and a balance in your nervous system.”
Ms. Loftus acknowledged that students could still get by with just five or six hours of sleep but noted that a lack of sleep inhibits teenagers from reaching their full academic and athletic potential.
In 2007, due to concerns in the administration that students at Deerfield were not sleeping enough, the beginning of the school day was changed from 7:55 am to 8:30 am. Ms. Loftus specified that the administration attempted to track students’ sleep by conducting campus-wide surveys in 2009 and 2011. In 2009, two years after the schedule change, students were generally managing to sleep about eights hours a night from Monday to Friday.
However, this trend began to shift in 2011, when students began to report that they were again getting less than eight hours of sleep. The extensive school-wide survey conducted with the help of Arizona State University Professor of Psychology Dr. Suniya Luthar in February 2017 revealed that on average, students were not sleeping eight hours per night.
Ms. Loftus identified two factors that may explain the decrease in the number of hours of sleep that students reported: “I don’t think students value sleep—they see it as optional. It’s almost this badge of honor to be sleep deprived. Also, we [the administration] forget that we have a new batch of students that needs to hear about sleep ever year. It’s almost like after a few years of progress, we’ve started to think that we’ve solved the problem of sleep.”
Anna Mishchenko ’19 shared a different perspective as to why students tend to fail to reach eight hours of sleep per night: “While I think [sleeping eight hours a night] is possible for some students and especially underclassmen, if you’re an ambitious [student], it’s very difficult. Most people have a lot of homework, and if you’re on a team and you go out for 5 hours on a Wednesday or a Saturday, that just takes more time away.”
Elven Shum ’20 had similar thoughts and noted that the Deerfield schedule often makes sleeping for eight hours seemingly impossible. He remarked, “For you to get eight hours, you’d need to go to bed at 11 and wake up at 7 to get ready for school and get breakfast. Most co-currics and dinner end at 6:15-30, and then many kids have club meetings to head to. After, we only have 7:45-11 to finish all our homework and study for tests, and if you want to socialize with friends after study hall, you get even less time.”
In spite of the hectic schedules of Deerfield students, Ms. Loftus still expressed that she believed students are capable of sleeping more. Ms. Loftus gave some advice to all students: “You need to prioritize and distinguish what you need to get done with what you want to get done. If you’re not sleep deprived, you’re so much more efficient. You have the capacity to prioritize and get assignments done more quickly.”
In addition, Ms. Loftus predicted, “If we get more sleep as a community, I think we would absolutely have less depression and anxiety. We would be better athletes and would see healthier and more supportive relationships. You have a better ability to handle stress when you’re well-rested.”
However, Mishchenko believes that rather than solely placing the responsibility of sleeping eight hours a night on students, the administration needs to accordingly adjust the academic and athletic workload: “I haven’t seen efforts to decrease the amount of commitments we [the students] have. Even decreasing the homework five to ten minutes per subject would make a huge difference.”
Shum ’20 agreed, stating, “In the environment we live in, expecting kids to sleep for eight hours just isn’t realistic. We need a schedule change.”