Promoting Healthy Habits: The Andover Sleep Challenge

Curling up in bed can be a relief after a long day of classes, but many students at Andover are not getting enough sleep, according to data from the 2018 State of the Academy, a schoolwide survey of student life conducted by The Phillipian.

The data says that the average Andover student sleeps just under 6.7 hours each night. Students aged 13-18 years, however, should be sleeping between eight and ten hours daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.).

To promote the awareness and practice of healthy sleep habits, Head of School John Palfrey holds an annual sleep challenge.

The voluntary initiative requires that students keep daily logs of how many hours they sleep each night. At the end of the month, participants submit these records to the Head of School’s Office in George Washington Hall to receive a gift card and have their names entered in a raffle to win a FitBit or a Yogibo.

Palfrey said, “My hope is that over a course of the month, students will experience the benefits of getting regular sleep, and will see it in their athletic performance, or see it in their dance performance, or see it in their academic performance, and therefore continue the habit after the month and after Andover.”

Mia Levy ’21, winner of the 2017 sleep challenge raffle, says that she has been able to understand more about herself through her sleep patterns.

“Every morning after I woke up, I would write down how many hours of sleep I got that night with the date on a piece of paper. It was a really easy thing to do, and we got gift cards in exchange. I thought that was a good deal. It honestly helped. I noticed Thursday nights are obviously pretty difficult, so I would get less sleep those nights. I did think about [sleep] more after the challenge,” said Levy.

Many students, including Phillip Ko ’22, feel that homework and other commitments prevent them from getting sufficient  sleep.

Ko said, “I definitely get less sleep than I did in middle school. At [Andover], I’m sacrificing more sleep for my work. That seems to be something I’m doing more often.”

According to U.S. News, with less than nine percent of teenagers sleeping for the ideal nine hours, the C.D.C. has declared sleep deprivation as a “public health epidemic” associated with a wide range of health issues.

Sleep deprivation can impair various physical and mental functions, which may lead to obesity, emotion regulation issues, poor impulse control, and depression. Yet, despite these health risks, Andover students find that internal and external pressures have conditioned them to prioritize academic achievement over sleep.

Catherine Nguyen ’21 said, “The first time you get a few hours of sleep, you get really exhausted. After you do it periodically, then it’s normal to you and it’s hard to break out of the habit.”

Luke Napolitano ’20 said, “[During] first period classes, even third period classes, you’ll sometimes notice that people are dead, as they’re not contributing in class and not doing anything. It’s hard for teachers to get kids involved, and it’s difficult to be involved when you’re half falling asleep.”

On top of Andover’s rigorous academics, most students are involved in extracurricular activities, including music, athletics, and clubs, that make the ideal nine hours of sleep seem difficult to attain, according to Napolitano.

Napolitano said, “The amount of opportunities you are offered here is absolutely insane. Why should I get eight hours of sleep when I can be getting five hours of sleep and doing harder classes and getting further? [The question is], do I sacrifice sleep or do I sacrifice achievement?”

Napolitano continued, “It’s incredibly unrealistic [to get eight hours of sleep], just because after classes we have sports, and after sports we have homework, and after homework you’ve got to get [ready to go] to bed… The way the school sets up our schedule with the amount of work that we have, it’s incredibly unrealistic to be getting more than eight hours of sleep every night.”

Palfrey, however, emphasized that he believes it is possible to get sleep and participate in the many opportunities at Andover.

Palfrey said, “All of us in this community, adults and students, are busy, and we all have lots of demands on our time. And it’s possible for all of us to get sleep. Even Uppers during their most busy terms and even Seniors in their Senior Fall are able to get sleep. And in some ways, I believe in paying oneself first with sleep and then other things follow from that. The sleep challenge is really an idea to get everyone on the same effort.”