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Wake Up (on the Right Side) Wiss Nation: An Interview with a Sleep Expert

Sophomore Petra Lee, Arts and Entertainment for the WHS newspaper, Trojan Times, interviewed Dr. Anne Marie Morse from Wake Up and Learn about sleep hygiene. Read the article below. 

Wake Up (on the Right Side) Wiss Nation
By Petra Lee ‘26

Amid sports games, theatre performances, and culminating projects occurring on top of loads of schoolwork, many students across the high school have been experiencing the midyear slump. Although getting a good night’s rest is commonly promoted, sleep is often sacrificed in exchange for completing assignments, studying for tests, and participating in extracurricular activities. This year, Geisinger Health’s Wake Up and Learn (WUAL) program is reaching out to students at Wissahickon to help them get the proper amount of sleep while balancing other parts of life. As the founder of WUAL, Dr. Anne Marie Morse, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist, shares her insights on the significance sleep holds on teenagers’ health and the function of everyday tasks.

Q: What is WUAL and the organization’s mission?

A: “WUAL is an educational resource for members of the school community that hopes to change the culture of sleep. As of the past decade, we have normalized sleep issues in society with studies finding that one in three teens and adults have problems related to sleep. To create a cultural change, education plus tools are required, therefore WUAL provides various educational deliveries that are not only limited to sleep. We focus our resources on how sleep is relevant to things that are important to teens such as getting good grades or performing well in athletics. Besides the educational component, we complement our instruction with surveys that indicate areas where participants need improvements in their sleep and apply changes to the program.”

Q: Why is understanding sleep, especially in teens, important?

A: “Depending on the study, teenagers are generally two to nine times more likely to have depression or commit suicide. In the medical community, sleep can be viewed as an actionable thing to possibly save someone’s life. Substantial sleep not only results in improved mental health, but it also transfers over to physical appearance (ie. weight, skin, and hair), sports performance, driving on the road, and academics. Every area of teenagers’ lives relies on getting enough rest. For example, since sleep is a period where everything someone has learned becomes cemented into their brain, not meeting a sleep goal is linked to forgetfulness, lower academic performance, and decreased attention span which can lead to increased impulsiveness in choosing the wrong answer on a test.”

Q: How many hours of sleep is enough for teens to feel refreshed and recharged?

A: “Some studies suggest that teens may need ten to twelve hours of sleep each night while other research shows that the average teen functions best on eight to ten hours of sleep. Keep in mind that these are only averages and people’s sleep needs vary based on genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Although people can think I’m working well on a day where I only got six and a half hours of sleep, I know deep inside I feel my absolute best getting eight hours of sleep. Find the amount of sleep that works the best for you!”

Q: How can caffeine consumption disrupt biological sleep patterns?

A: “When sleep is compromised, we often resort to stimulants like caffeine to give us energy. Adenosine is a chemical that helps you sleep, but caffeine comes in and blocks it, resulting in the inability to sleep. As the most widely used stimulant across the globe, caffeine consumption has quickly become an addiction. Stimulants should not be consumed every day because they disrupt the sympathetic nervous system which controls the body’s flight-or-fight response. It’s okay to drink a serving of coffee here and there, but don’t become too reliant on sugary energy drinks that disrupt the body’s hormones and responses. Not only will this make you restless, but the quality of your sleep will also decrease.”

Q: What are some strategies for teenagers to optimize efficient sleep and carry out a productive day?

A: “A typical teenager’s routine could look something like this: learn at school for seven hours, take a two-hour break by scrolling on social media, and get groggy but have homework to finish so you end up delaying your bedtime. Every time your bedtime is set back, you become less efficient during those hours you continue work (ie. what usually takes me ten minutes takes thirty) and you replant this cycle day after day. To avoid this, first reflect upon what your weekday vs weekend sleep schedule looks like. At least on the weekends, reach for optimal sleep and full rest. Try to incorporate journaling every morning by “bucketing out a day” and time block every thirty

minutes to an hour to keep track of how you are spending your time. This can look like a Punnett square where you list all the tasks you need to/want to complete. Timelines are important so mapping out your priorities and setting realistic goals allows you to maintain accomplishments throughout the flow of the day, which leads to positive feedback in the brain that makes you feel like a ‘do-er.’”

Q: What are some observed differences in teens who sleep more because their school has a later start time?

A: “From what I’ve seen, the issue with later start times is the later end times. There are increased rates of depression and anxiety due to there being less time after school. Some districts have attempted to fix this issue by experimenting with block days and other types of scheduling, but there is no one way to solve the multi-faceted issue. If only the start time would make a difference in students’ sleep, I question if it would truly make a positive difference. In addition, it may not be sustainable for surrounding districts or schools in terms of transportation, athletic games, and less time for extracurriculars. This can result in a burden upon families and school staff, so if districts were to push back their start times, they would need to ensure that there are adequate resources available for the dramatic changes.”

Q: What other ways for teens to get more sleep besides pushing back start times?

A: “The first step is better time management of assignments, extracurriculars, and home life. Getting optimal sleep one night impacts sleep the following, so establishing healthy habits in your routine is a key factor. Second, teens should practice mindfulness to better understand their emotions so that they can control how they respond to certain stimuli. This allows you to have self-awareness in being the best version of yourself and get your work done since time management is learning how to best use our time. Third, teens need to understand that they can’t solve all of the world’s problems and sacrifice their sleep to fit more hours into their day. There are truly not enough hours in a day to define how great you are, so remember that what starts your best day is your best night’s sleep.”