The Y Files: Sleep? What's that? | September 19, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - September 19, 2008

The Y Files: Sleep? What's that?

by Maria Shen

Holy mother of yellow pencils, it's the start of school! We're all getting into the swing of things - waking up early, not eating breakfast, sleeping in the car ride to school, and speed reading before class.

All right, all right, maybe things aren't all that hectic, but I can confidently say that most high schoolers have been losing quite a substantial amount of sleep since the first day of class. Before pointing fingers at teachers and their special breed of academic cruelty (death by calculus), we should all take a moment to search for the alternative culprits.

We live in fast-track world of instant-everything. In theory, things should be getting done a lot quicker. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. There are so many gadgets nowadays that we're always getting distracted.

When I turn on my computer to do my homework, I can't help but check my e-mail first. Come on, something important might have been sent to me! That's when I notice on my gmail sidebar that several of my friends are online. That little voice in my head is telling me that I should probably move the mouse away from the friendly little green dot next to my best friend's name, indicating that she's available online.

Little by little, I'm inching my mouse away. But that is when an instant messaging window pops up - she decides to message me, first. And, of course, it would be rude not to reply...

My greatest downfall should be instant messaging. Nowadays, I've uninstalled all those programs on my computer, and I've learned to put my time to better use.

Sadly, not everyone can boast a phenomenal success story like me. (I am even considering writing a book about my journey toward Instant Messaging Sobriety). A friend at Monte Vista, who wishes to remain anonymous, intermittently spends more than nine hours chatting each day. If she is out of the house, she'll use her iPhone to talk to all her friends.

Scarily enough, there's more than just instant messengers distracting high school students. There are the obvious culprits, closely linked with the aforementioned instant messaging epidemic like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Less obvious culprits include news and commentary sites like OK, so I only know one kid who puts off homework to read the Economist, and I've yet to judge whether this is a good or bad thing. Gossip sites like, which promises "celebrity juice, not from concentrate," get a much larger following.

The Internet is making our entire lives easier (hello, Wikipedia!), but it's also breaking up the traditional rhythms of life. Armand, a graduate of Monte Vista High, tells me that he's stopped having meals at the dinner table. Always, it's in front of his computer screen.

Eric Jensen, a local 12th-grader, likes to go on It's a Web site where users can share Web content from the most popular places to the most obscure corners of the Internet. "Sometimes, I'll just eat at my computer," he tells me.

How much time are teens really spending on homework? The general consensus seems to be - not nearly as much time as they're spending doing other things.

When I asked other students how much sleep they got the night before (mind you, I asked on a Monday), the answers were nowhere near the suggested 10 hours of sleep ... not that it should come as a surprise.

I asked a slew of seniors: Anastasia Radchenko, Alex Morris, Percia Safar, Bailey Meyers, Eric Jensen and Jeff Chen, among others...

Most reported six hours of sleep on Sunday night. Eric Jensen reported the most hours: seven. The rest attested to sleeping only five hours. One told me, bleary-eyed, that he'd only slept four hours the night before.

Personally, I can report a whopping six hours. I had stayed up reading articles on New York Magazine and searching for Sarah Palin's convention speech on YouTube. Perhaps these were not the most worthless things to do, but they were nevertheless cutting into my sleep time. And they had absolutely nothing to do with homework or school.

But before I write off all teens as late-night procrastinators, I must point out the exception: Shahryar Abbasi, the friend who only had four hours of sleep. When I asked what he did the night before, he groaned and said, "I had to study for five tests the next day."

Well, there you have it. Whether or not we're actually doing homework, teens are just not sleeping enough.

Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at


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