An analysis of sleep: Athletes at PHS

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Graphic by: Caroline Tan

Often placing amongst the top schools in the state and nation, PHS is a school known for its academic rigor. However, the fact that it is also home to an abundance of athletes, where a significant amount of students have played or play on a sports team in one season during the year, is often overlooked. It’s important to understand how stress affects these students who also must cope with the extensive homework and studying that the PHS curriculum brings.

From surveys administered to almost 150 athletes across all four grades, the average PHS athlete spends over two and a half hours per day at practice. For athletes especially, time management is an important and necessary skill to develop in order to balance athletics, academics, and a social and personal life. “Being an athlete has forced me to develop time management skills because during the season, you have to dedicate a lot of time to practices and meets, and so when we come home … I just have to use my time wisely or else I won’t get my homework done,” said Crystal An ’16, a varsity swimmer.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should receive around 9.25 hours of sleep per night. More so, athletes especially need more sleep to recover from the physical stress that sports require. “Sleep has been recognized as an essential component in recovery from, and preparation for, high-intensity training,” according to Dr. Shona L. Halson in a paper published in the US National Library of Medicine. The disparity between the recommended amount of sleep and the average PHS athlete is immense, as they receive under 7 hours per night.

With heavy expectations of excelling both at a sport, taking several AP courses, and maintaining a social life, it is understandable that the average PHS athlete is often fatigued and lacks the necessary amount of sleep.

Noah Lilienthal ’18, a varsity tennis player, knows too well the impact athletics can have on a student’s schedule. “The Mercer County Tournament… was a whole day [tournament] on Monday through Wednesday … I had a lot of exams coming up on Thursday, [and at MCT’s] I ended up playing two long matches and losing in finals. It was really hard on my body and was mentally tasking,” Lilienthal said. “From there I had to go to band rehearsal because we were getting ready for state finals. [The next day] I had a math quiz and an APUSH test and I couldn’t focus on any of my studies.”

Lack of sleep cumulates into a host of problems including weight gain, depression, and weakened immune systems. It is even more essential for athletes, who require sleep to rebuild from the physical stress they put on their body. According to FatigueScience.com, getting more sleep at night improves reaction times, reduces injury rates, increases career longevity, yields more accuracy, faster sprints, and fewer mental errors during a game. In fact, the author cites a study by Williamson and Feyer which found that one all-nighter can reduce reaction times by more than 300 percent. Even low levels of fatigue can be comparable to being legally drunk.

“Usually after practice or a meet … I’m really tired, so I really need to recover and sleep, so the next day I feel refreshed,” said Jackie Patterson ’18, a varsity track runner.

The unfortunate reality is, while there are numerous studies on the negative effects of sleep deprivation on athletes, it doesn’t change how students prioritize their rest. High schoolers, PHS students being no exception, struggle with understanding how sleep is such a large determinant in performance and shouldn’t be traded off for an extra hour of studying.

Sarah Klebanov ’16, a veteran cross country and track athlete hardened by four years of daily distance running, agrees with the necessity of sleep for athletes. “Sleep … plays a large role … in performance. If I don’t get a … good night’s rest before a meet, I usually don’t feel … as good leading up to the race … and sometimes during the race. Especially days before a meet … I try to get more sleep,” Klebanov said.

A call for an Option II for student varsity athletes has been, in large part, fueled by a careful look at the stress induced by athletics and, as a result, the lack of time created by that participation. This academic year, student liaisons Nick Pibl ’16 and Madi Norman ’16 have been calling for Option II. “Mark Petrovic [’16] approached me … and introduced … the idea of Option II Physical Education for Athletes … [PHS] is an incredibly rigorous school [and] a really stressful environment … so we need to be looking at ways to reduce unnecessary stress and unnecessary exhaustion for all of the students,” said Norman. “Tons of athletes are excited about this … this would probably be a program that would be gradually expanded [but we] would have to start somewhere.”

The culture of stress is often overlooked for athletes, who have just as large of a role at PHS as any other group. When taking their experiences into consideration, it is clear that there should be more policies in place to help athletes continue a sport they love while also balancing their mental health, academics, and social life. Regardless of the implementation of Option II, athlete stress and well-being is something that needs to be recognized and addressed accordingly.

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