Junior Noah Alper conducted a year long research project in his Independent Research class about sleep deprivation. Specifically, he focused on how high school students could cope with fatigue through caffeine or napping. Below is an abbreviated portion of his final paper.
A Student’s Guide to Energy
In the United States alone, approximately 66% of adolescents suffer from sleep deprivation, meaning they receive less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. Sleep deprivation makes it very difficult to function to one’s best ability, causing symptoms like irritability, difficulty paying attention, fatigue, delayed reaction times, and more. Most of these adolescents are students, and a good chunk of them are student athletes. These two groups of people especially need to function at their best ability in order to earn or maintain good grades as well as to perform well in their athletic events. There are many factors that can lead to sleep deprivation such as poor time management skills, lots of homework, and early school start times.
“There is a lot of peer pressure not to sleep regular hours, and students feel like they are missing out,” according to Megan Hagenauer, a research investigator who works in the Molecular and Behavioral Institute at the University of Michigan. “Sleeping often feels like wasted time, and it is hard to recognize the benefit of getting more sleep because it typically takes more than a day or two to fully catch up on sleep debt.”
On top of their homework and studies, high schoolers often have extremely busy schedules, whether it be getting community service hours for NHS or playing sports for the school team. This makes it very difficult for them to balance their schedule in order to get enough sleep, but there are still ways to get some extra energy if you didn’t get enough sleep last night.
One of the most effective methods is napping. Naps have been proven to improve subjective levels of fatigue as well as performance on logical reasoning and symbol recognition tasks. In addition, when taken at and for the right amount of time, naps help performance in sports.
“Sleep is the time when the body recovers from the stresses loaded upon it, and the repair of muscle and connective tissue begins. Naps are an excellent tool for athletes in training and on game day as well,” says Dan McCarthy, High Performance Consultant at USA Swimming.
A 20-30 minute power nap will still have restorative benefits, without the side effect of grogginess that most people experience after waking up from a nap. These naps are good if you don’t have lots of time before your game or before starting your homework. Longer naps (typically an hour or more) will restore more energy, however; often come with the drawback of grogginess when waking up that can last up to thirty minutes. These naps are great if you have a good amount of time that you can spend napping to regain that energy that you couldn’t get last night.
Alternatively to napping, if you’re running low on time or simply need an instant energy boost, caffeine can be an effective although less healthy method if taken in a moderately. Caffeine causes alertness in your brain on consumption and can temporarily relieve drowsiness and fatigue. This can be good if you didn’t get much sleep last night and need something to wake you up for school. Caffeine can also cause boosts in performance in endurance and shorter exercises.
Shalane Flanagan, Olympic Distance Runner, says coffee helps her with her physical activities, “Yeah, and maybe it’s mental more than anything, but I don’t know an endurance athlete that doesn’t have a cup at least a couple hours before a race. Personally, I wouldn’t go to the line without a cup of coffee. On our team, we joke that coffee is our PED [performance-enhancing drug].”
Although coffee helps many athletes performance, everybody’s body reacts differently to it. Too much caffeine can cause negative side effects such as addiction, headache, jitters, nausea or vomiting, heartburn, and others.
Caffeine and napping are both useful methods in regaining energy after a rough night’s sleep, but each are better used in certain scenarios. Napping is more natural for the body and is better when you have more time on your hands, while caffeine, on the other hand, is typically used when there isn’t enough time to nap but you still need an energy boost. Regardless, students should try and use these methods effectively in order to perform at their best in school and in extracurriculars.
As Olympic Athlete Mikaela Shiffrin said in 2017, “Rest is big, for me. I mean, that’s really big. I have to get a full night of sleep and a nap pretty much every day in order to perform at the level that I want to.”