Middle school and high school are already some of the most grueling years in most kids’ lives. And everything is harder, darker, sadder, and heavier when you’re tired.
By Morgan Lloyd
So I think we can all agree that being a teenager can really suck sometimes. Middle school and high school are notorious for being awkward, scary, and hard. These are the beginnings of the formative years of our lives. We’re shown how to be individuals, how to start being adults, how to learn. But I associate middle school and high school not with excitement of becoming my own person but with thin carpets, bright lights, and exhaustion.
Exhaustion was a badge of honor in high school. We would compare sleep horror stories, in a way competing with one another to see who was operating on the least amount of sleep. We bonded over the bags under our eyes, seeing them as proof that we were fighters. That our lives were rigorous and hard. Obviously, we were teenagers trying to be big and bad, but my point is that not only was sleep deprivation the norm: it was expected and even glorified.
I was lucky if I got five hours of sleep a night. Yes, lots of homework kept me up late, but regardless of work I couldn’t fall asleep earlier if I tried. My body wasn’t ready to sleep at nine, which is around when I’d have to fall asleep to get the baseline eight hours. No teenager I know can fall asleep on command, especially not that early. So, to the teachers who tell us to “just get to bed earlier,” we know you mean well, but it’s just not that simple.
Not only was sleep deprivation the norm: it was expected and glorified....I was lucky if I got fiver hours of sleep a night.
What It's Like to be Up Before the Sun
Sleep deprivation takes away more than just energy. Moving beyond circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles, I want to paint you a picture of the average morning of a middle or high schooler.
You wake up with your face on top of a textbook, still open in your lap. You desperately want to hit the snooze button on your alarm, but then you’d be late for the bus. Maybe even late for school, and have to run across the building with your overstuffed backpack that weighs more than an average ten-year-old child. So you shut off your alarm. It’s playing the most annoying sound you can find, and you turn your lights on, squinting into the brightness.
You’re up before the sun, and the street lights are still on outside. There are no cars on the road, no neighbors walking their dogs yet. It’s eerily silent, and somehow every morning you find yourself wondering (however irrationally) if maybe this time you actually are the only one left in the world.
You see the frost outside of your window and you dread the trek to the bus. As you go through the usual robotic motions, you think of the glorious moment eighteen hours from now when you can crawl back underneath your covers in the same darkness you woke up in. You cram some toaster waffles into your mouth and head out the door, dragging your feet through the snow when someone hasn’t taken the time to shovel the sidewalk in front of their house. You’re wearing a lighter coat than you should be, not out of teenage rebellion, but because your locker is on the opposite side of the building from any of your classes and you’ll have to carry it around all day.
At the corner, you stand with a group of classmates, your breath visible as the sun rises. You stomp your feet to keep the blood flowing as you wait in dreary silence for the bus that always manages to come either fifteen minutes late or fifteen minutes early. At least it’s warm in there.
Waking up in the dark when there are no cars driving by and no dogs being walked yet is one of the loneliest experiences I’ve had.
You leave the bus and enter the world of linoleum and bright lights, heading to that lunch table with the few friends you actually know. You compare those exhaustion badges of honor while you sit in an uncomfortably loud, fluorescently lit cafeteria until the bell rings. You trudge to class, slump in the hard chair, and take notes on the quadratic formula, as if you could possibly absorb the information before 7:45 in the morning. And no matter how sunny or how warm it ends up being outside, it’s never as warm before sunrise.
This is how your days always begin, and it never seems to get easier.
"Please Let Us Wake Up When We're Supposed To"
Waking up in the dark when there are no cars driving by and no dogs being walked yet is one of the loneliest experiences I’ve had. One that I think people tend to forget as they get older and leave high school behind. There’s an aimless sadness to it, and it’s heavy on the over-strained shoulders of kids everywhere. The world is cold whether it’s winter or not, and there’s no energy left to try. Monotony becomes you. There isn’t enough time or energy to truly care about things, and it’s easier to just keep pushing yourself through your unsustainable yet required lifestyle. And you do it at your own expense, because you have no other choice.
Middle school and high school are already some of the most grueling years in most kids’ lives, and the fatigue makes it so that you can’t appreciate what benefit school does give you. Everything is harder, darker, sadder, heavier when you’re tired. I wish this was all just me being dramatic, but this is the sad reality of so many of our lives.
You have understand, we want to learn, and we want to be good students, but that’s especially hard when you have to pay for it each year with 180 mornings of cold, dark loneliness. So please, let us wake up when we’re supposed to, and let us wake up to a nice alarm. Ones with natural light and evidence outside that there are people awake with us. Just one hour. That’s all we ask.
Morgan Lloyd is a junior at Brandeis University and a 2015 graduate of Hall High School in West Hartford, CT. This essay was originally prepared to be delivered at a legislation forum on school start times in Hartford.
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