I Hate Staying Up Late Doing Homework While High

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Sleep Deprived Teenager: Too Much Homework

by Kate

I'm writing this at 3:00 a.m. in my local time zone. I'm not procrastinating, I'm just taking a five minute break from all of the work I still have left to do. My headache has gotten bad enough that I need to separate myself from my writing for long enough for my thoughts to clear.

I'm a teenager in the IB program, and I'm chronically sleep deprived. The way that the IB program works is that you are given both international and local curriculum requirements to fulfill, at the same time, despite the fact that the overlaps between the two systems are often not that substantial.

As a result, since the beginning of October (it is now early June), I have had an average of 6 hours of sleep a night. For the last few months, this average has decreased to approximately 4 hours.

There are times, such as tonight, when I will potentially get 2 hours of sleep, if I don't succeed in pulling another all-nighter. Yet, this is the reality in my high school. Right now, I'm texting other friends for homework help, almost all of whom are up and awake. The majority of them will be to bed by 3:30, and up again before 7.

I get heart palpitations, my hands shakes, I've lost all color to my skin - I haven't been outside for more than 45 minutes in months, makeup no longer covers the bags under my eyes, my immune system has begun to fail me (I always have a cold), visual auras have become more commonplace, I have gained weight from the number of times I've had caffeinated products and carbs at all hours of the night... and I'm exhausted.

This is sleep deprivation. Don't try it.

Kevin: Hey Kate, I can relate. Looking back on my high school years, which were just a few years ago, I can see that I was totally sleep deprived from simply not having enough hours in the day after the demands of school and sports. My high school started at 7:10 AM, which meant waking up at 5:30 each morning to make it on time (there was a lot of traffic by the school close to start time). Not a good hour when homework and a natural teenage circadian rhythm had me up until 11PM or midnight the night before.

It's tough when the system conspires against you. But hey, education and increased awareness of these issues is the best way to change the system, or in the meantime, at least understand what's happening with your body so you can be as strategic as possible in dealing with or knocking off your sleep debt.

From one (former) sleep deprived teenager to another...

Good luck,

With the school in full swing for so many youth, I wanted to share some comments that students across the nation have shared in response to my blogs on homework. In a given school year, many students spend hours upon hours each night working on assignments. Add to that work, sports, and extracurricular activities and it’s no wonder we have a lot of stressed out teens. Please take time to read the voices of young people across the nation who responded to homework blogs. Following the students’ comments is a response from a veteran teacher. 

Dear Teacher,

I'm 17 and I'm in my last year of high school. I can honestly tell you that from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. (sometimes 1 or 2 a.m.) I am doing homework. I've been trying to balance my homework with my work schedule, work around my house, and my social life with no success. So if someone were to ask me if I think kids have too much homework, I would say yes they do. My comment is based solely on my personal experience in high school. ~Morgan

Hi Morgan,

I know that homework can be extremely stressful and time-consuming… especially if you are taking AP, IB, or other rigorous courses of study. The key to balance and sanity in your life is going to be organization – make a calendar with due dates and priorities. Try not to procrastinate – that will REALLY make you feel overwhelmed. I wish you the best this year. ~LMM

Dear Teacher,

Many people say that our generation spends more time on the computer and watching television than reading books and doing homework, but in reality we do not have time for that anymore. Yes, there are still those stragglers that make you think otherwise, but please do not think that is the majority. Reading books is a treat for us if we get our homework, studying, group projects, etc., finished. Teens mostly receive about 4, or 5 hours of sleep a night. If we're lucky we get 6 or 7. Most of us get up at 5:00 in the morning. Each one of my teachers says that the homework for my class should take 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

I go to six hours of school, sports after school, youth group once a week, tutoring if they have it that day, community service on the weekends, chores at home, and after all this we have 6 more hours of homework to do. The reason why we do all this is to get into college. One of my teachers said to us the other day, "none of you are ready for college and I think we need to push you a little harder." That made me sad to realize that people still do not understand the struggle we go through. In fact, I never have time to chat with my friends in the morning, before school, at lunch, after school, and rarely on the weekends, the reason why is because I do my homework in all that time. High School used to be fun and people were not worried about college as much because they knew that they would make it, plus tuition was lower. Now the bar is too high and soon it will be literally impossible. ~Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

While high school should be fun, it is a lot of work. On the other hand, a teenager should not be running on five hours of sleep and feeling completely overwhelmed with school work. Here are some suggestions:

1. Talk to your school counselor – perhaps he or she can help you organize your homework schedule to be more effective.

2. Talk to your teachers about your situation and see what specific advice they can offer you to be successful in their class.

3. Talk to your parents about your workload at home – perhaps they can compromise on a few things or give you a weekend without chores. ~LMM

Dear Teacher,

I am 15 years old and currently taking two college courses. On top of that I am in Advanced Placement Biology, Advanced Algebra 2, and Advanced Language Arts. I have a butt ton of homework every night. I have to stay up way late at night to finish it. I am in other activities too! I play volleyball, run cross country, and play basketball. I'm also in youth group, Trio(ets), blue crew, speech, and student council. I have a lot on my plate. I happily say I do have and maintain over a 4.0 GPA, but I am always tired and have headaches that won't go away. I always want to pull my hair out when I think of the amount of homework I have to do! Teachers expect too much of us on one subject. ~Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

You seem to be a very ambitious young person – I’m impressed with your drive! I know that this is going to seem quite obvious, but when you take college level courses, you are given the work load of a college student.  It seems to me that if you want to keep the higher level courses, something has to give – you have so much on your plate!  You don’t want to sacrifice your health (or the rest of your childhood) so you can have the schedule of a college student when you are fifteen. Take a close look at your schedule and try to keep the things for which you are the most passionate and eliminate a few that are burdensome. As for the headaches – you may need to go to a doctor, but I’ve found that many students experience them when they do not drink enough water, eat a poor diet, and/or do not get enough sleep.  Take care of yourself and try to have a great year!  ~LMM

Dear Teacher,

I live in a high performing, upper middle class community like the one you described, and watching people you've grown up with deteriorate at the hands of stress before your very eyes is awful. It's easy to watch from the land of collegiate academia and conduct studies on high schoolers, but sometimes the best proof of a problem is an entire generation silently screaming under the oppression of pressure and ultra high standards of achievement, THERE'S A PROBLEM. No matter what classes you are enrolled in, whether you have 2-3 hours of homework a night or upwards of 5-6, you find yourself inundated with societal, peer, and parental pressure to strive for excellence. You have no idea how many times I've heard someone say homework or studying for a looming test made them cry. How much dread I feel waking up and realizing it's the day in my schedule rotation that doesn't have a study hall. I definitely think that homework has value...only in moderation. I could rattle off for days about how I feel like my generation is being crushed under the weight of our own education, but I think I've made my point. Sigh, time to go back to "studying" for my psychology midterm by writing an essay about a topic we never learned in class (literally that is the prompt) wish me luck. ~Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I hate to hear about the tremendous amounts of stress students undergo in response to the pressure to perform.  Unfortunately, much of the pressure that you are feeling comes from teachers who are receiving just as much pressure to perform… It is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken and it starts with politicians and policymakers.  Make your voice be heard – go to the movers and shakers and present your case. I wish you the best. ~ LMM

Dear Teacher,

I am a 16 year old high school student I have one AP class and the rest regular classes. I think that there should be more separation between the more advanced students and the students that don't even try. I have had many classes were the majority of the students don't pay attention and are always messing around and don't do anything. These students make it difficult for the teacher to finish the lesson.  As a result what we don’t cover becomes homework. I spend almost the whole weekend doing homework and 2-3 hours every day. When I do have the chance to go out I can't help but have the fact in the back of my head that I still have homework that has to be done. Or I am thinking, “Did I finish all of my homework?” I also participate in extracurricular activities for my school, like sports. Sometimes I don't get home until 8 and then I have homework. The next day I will wake up at 5:30 and repeat the same thing. Even during the breaks I am assigned homework. Which leaves me to say some of the homework I get assigned is too much for me and some of it is caused by my classmates acting up in class. ~Juan

Dear Juan,

You have a great opportunity to make a positive influence on the students who are being disruptive and disrespectful. As a teacher, I know that peer pressure can also work for the good – try to encourage your peers to take their learning seriously. Also – express your frustration to your teachers in a respectful manner… let them know that you have a difficult time learning in an environment that is disruptive. Perhaps your homework situation will be resolved when the disruptions are addressed. Try to have a great year. ~LMM

The most powerful voices are those who are directly impacted by the educational system. If you are an educator, hopefully you'll spend time communicating with your students about what is on their plates. Not assigning homework isn't the answer, but there is something to say about finding the right balance and allowing homework to be a supplement to what is being taught in the classroom. To the teens, communicate openly with your teachers. They want you to succeed. There may be periods of time you feel overwhelmed by all of the assignments and other times your work load may feel doable. Oftentimes teachers can help make the stressful times more manageable. You just have to talk to them...

Wishing both educators and students a successful school year!

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