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Nocturnal Students: Pulling all-nighters to get it all done

Coffee, exercise, and a whole lot of will power is all it takes for Jill Rappaport ’13 to make it through the night.

Rappaport practices a lifestyle that many students are forced to take on: living nocturnally.  Not by choice, she is awake far past 12:00 a.m. every night.  On her latest nights, 4:00 a.m. is her reasonable bedtime.

She spends these late hours finishing her homework – something that Rappaport prioritizes over sleep.

“If I had it my way I’d go to bed early,” Rappaport said.

Still, her workload is relentless. Four AP courses and three honors courses leave Rappaport with a multitude of papers, textbook readings, and worksheets every evening.  From her perspective, a reasonable bedtime does not seem plausible for her in the near future.

Rappaport is not alone; many students come to school sleep deprived every morning.  However, she has adjusted to this and even developed her own method to maintain the nocturnal lifestyle.

For starters, Rappaport utilizes her energy from dance to motivate herself.  She says that the activity helps keep her awake when she returns home from dance at 9:00 p.m.

Unfortunately, this energy only goes so far, and coffee is key.

“Sometimes a half and half is enough, but if I am really tired I’ll need whole caffeine,” she said.

No matter what energy booster she uses, Rappaport knows that her will power is what prevails over all.  If she needs to stay up late, she makes herself.  “When my eyes shut there’s nothing I can do.  I can’t concentrate on being tired, I have to concentrate on what I’m doing.”

James Onorato ’12 suffers from similar circumstances, but in contrast, he tends to enjoy his late-night study sessions.

For Onorato, the benefit of staying up late is that he’s more productive.

“I get way more work done when I’m in a silent spot or the only one up in my house,” he said.  “It’s something about the environment.”

For Onorato, these late hours are a door to a different world.  It’s a world of dimly lit halls, a vacant kitchen, and above all, complete utter silence.  There are no distractions within the house, and outside the house is only the black illusion of nothing.  The only thing to catch his eye is the blue glow of daytime approaching that he must race on those all-nighters.

For Onorato, this scene is perfectly ideal.

While many students resort to waking up early and cramming in their work, Onorato says that he has more motivation to complete his work when he can look forward to sleep.

“If I know I have to get something done I’ll stay awake until I can finish,” he said.

Contrary to Rappaport, energy drinks are counterproductive for Onorato.

“They’re useless for me,” he said.  His will power keeps him up, on some occasions, until the next school day.

“The nighttime has a completely different atmosphere.  Even if I have to slap myself to stay awake, I know it’s worth it to stay up,” Onorato said.

For these students the night has become a marketplace where sleep is exchanged for time.  They are among the many kids who spend as few as three hours sleeping.  Their lifestyle is practically nocturnal, yet for them, it somehow works.

Michael Fulton, English teacher, shows empathy for the students that he’s noticed have little rest.  Throughout his career he has seen plenty of students fall asleep in his class, but he understands their “wildly busy schedules” and knows that sometimes their bodies just lose control.  “I see [kids falling asleep in class] across the board, and I wish I could do something about it,” Fulton said.

Fulton says he pines for a solution to this problem, and recognizes the severity of it.  “Our brains are still forming until our mid 20’s; we need time for growth,” Fulton said.  “I wish I could find a way for teachers to assign homework and not crush students’ evenings.”

According to a recent study by Drexel University’s Dr. Christina Calamaro, assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, only 20  percent of a group of high school students consistently got the recommended eight hours of sleep or more.  The rest were categorized as sleep-deprived.  Of the sleep-deprived students, 85 percent ran on caffeine and 30 percent fell asleep in class.  In comparison to the span of kids coming to school tired, Rappaport and Onorato are a merely a small fraction.

Call it normal or call it crazy, but these late bedtimes are unavoidable for Rappaport and Onorato.  Tough course-loads and overscheduled extra-curricular activities are amongst the many factors that play in to their long days.

But like the rest of the 80 percent of under-rested students, they’ve learned to live with it, and their nocturnal nights prevail.

6 Tips for staying awake:

Leah Bitsky ’12 and Nicolette Weinbaum ’12
Features editors

  • Chug a 5 Hour Energy drink or regular coffee
  • Splash your face with cold water or take a luke-warm shower.
  • Engage in physical activity. A quick jog or jumping-jacks will do the trick.
  • Consume fruit or other sugary products
  • Listen to fast-paced music. Nicki Minaj will suffice.
  • Chew gum. Mint or bubble, it does not matter.
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