From sleep scores to test scores

As quickly as you jump into bed at night, is just how quickly you are right back out and getting dressed for school. With a sleep score of just 50%, you don’t know how you will make it through all three of your tests as well as having practice today. But that is just part of the everyday struggles of being a high school student.

Sleep scores data from a high school student athlete.

Many people are aware that sleep affects numerous aspects of our daily lives. It is widely known that sleep affects students’ performance in school as well as in sports and other activities. As more studies are being conducted over the years, the number of health risks that a lack of sleep imposes are continuing to increase. This is why the discussion of pushing back school start times has become a hot topic of discussion lately. In fact, California has officially become the first state to take initiative and pass a law enforcing later school start times.

Recently conducted studies have shown that sleep deprived teenagers are struggling with academics, mental health, and substance abuse. Additionally, many injuries among student athletes are being linked to a lack of sleep. Looking at these studies, California decided to tackle these issues by creating a law that sets boundaries around school start times. The law states that high school classes are not allowed to begin anytime before 8:30 am and middle school classes are not permitted to begin before 8:00 am. On July 1, 2022, the law officially went into effect for the upcoming school year.

Now that California has officially put the law into effect, New Jersey and New York are now starting to consider enforcing similar laws. While those three states are taking a stand, most of the country still hesitates to discuss later school start times. In schools, teachers and students are beginning to murmur about it amongst themselves as they see the negative effects firsthand. Between after school activities, school work, and a 7:20 am start time, it is incredibly difficult for students to get the full 8+ hours of sleep they need per night to function properly and support their growing bodies. It is even a stretch for most students to get 6+ hours a night.

Upon hearing the news about this new sleep law, I couldn’t understand why not more states, including Pennsylvania, have not considered enforcing a law like this themselves. To get a complete understanding of the way sleep affects students, I decided to dive deeper and learn more about the quality of sleep my classmates and I are getting, and how it affects us day to day. After doing some research, I learned of an app called Sleep Cycle. The app is designed to listen to you while you sleep and use the data to analyze your sleep patterns and give you a report on your quality of sleep. The app tells you what time you go to bed, and wake up, your quality of sleep, sleep regularity, and more. It is also designed to give you insights on how to achieve a better quality of sleep.

I experimented with the app for a few nights so it could learn my sleep patterns. I also wanted to see how accurate I felt the tracker was. After using the app for a week, I felt it was fairly accurate and gave me an excellent insight into how well I was sleeping. I quickly noticed how the score on the app correlated to my mood and productivity. I encouraged a few of my friends at North Penn to download the app as a way to get their opinions as well as see how their sleep compared to mine. After using it for a week, they were all hooked on using the app and also expressed their shock at how little sleep they were getting during the week.

“I didn’t think I would enjoy using the Sleep Cycle, but after using it for two weeks I think it has really helped me see how much my quality of sleep impacts my day,” Bella Fiore stated.

Fiore is a three sport athlete at North Penn, participating in soccer as well as winter and spring track. It is incredibly important for Fiore to get as much sleep in order to perform well in each of her sports. One big thing she has noticed is when her sleep score is significantly lower, her energy at school and practice takes a plunge.

“Those days when I get a 50% or lower I feel like I can’t even keep my eyes open in class. It just gets even worse than when I go to soccer and feel like I could just sleep on the field,” Fiore said laughing.

With North Penn’s early start time, Fiore also struggles to get enough sleep while being able to maintain her busy school workload.

“Some nights you just come to the conclusion that your school work will have to wait and that sleep is just more important at that moment,” Fiore continued.

An average night of sleep for Fiore during the week, would be between 4-5 hours of sleep with a sleep score of around 50%. This is not nearly enough sleep to support the body of a teenager, let alone a teenage athlete. Especially considering that studies show that sleep is our bodies’ optimal time to repair after a workout.

While my average amount of sleep was not nearly as bad, averaging around 6 hours of sleep per night with a sleep score of about 74%, that is still not anywhere near the recommended amount of sleep for a teen. When I continued tracking my sleep on the weekends I quickly saw a spike with my amount of sleep increasing to around 8+ hours of sleep per night with an average sleep score of 91%. Even Fiore and my other friends clearly saw the difference between their quality of sleep on weekdays compared to weekends.

While I am aware that this sleep law has only passed in 1 of the 50 states, I still believe that this is a monumental step in the right direction for ensuring that students get the proper amount of sleep. I think that with one state taking action, and the possibility of two more states following, this should be a wake up call for Pennsylvania to start looking into how this might benefit their students. It is clear that there is a lack of sleep amongst students in North Penn, so I am positive that this is a common theme in other schools across Pennsylvania as well.

I understand the possible downsides to later school start times, such as fitting in after school activities. Although, I firmly believe that the positives do outweigh the negatives. As I have learned more about my sleep I have also come to have a better understanding of sleep’s importance. As a busy student athlete myself, I feel that the amount of sleep I get impacts so much of everyday life from the field to in school. I only think it’s fair that state legislators educate themselves a little more on sleep and just how much it is affecting students across the country.