It’s 6:15 am. My alarm clock is ringing. I can barely open my eyes. The light is blinding me. But wait, why are my lights on? And what am I holding? I look down. I am clutching my AP biology textbook close to my chest. Great, we spooned together again.

Then I remember the test I have today and how I stayed up until 3:30 am studying,  yet I don’t remember anything I learned. My mind is screaming, begging me to wake up and squeeze in five more minutes of study time, but my eyelids won’t listen. They can’t handle running on only three hours of sleep. Not again. My alarm clock is still ringing, but my eyes close. 

It’s now 6:50 am, and my mom is yelling at me. I’m going to miss the bus. I’m wearing Roots sweatpants and a pullover, so I get out of bed and walk to the bus stop. Hopefully, no one will notice that I slept in this outfit. At school, I guzzle a 16 oz cup of coffee while cramming for my test. I can’t live without coffee even though I’m only 16.

I stumble as I walk to class. The floor is wobbly, and I have tunnel vision. I don’t say hi to my classmates; I grunt at them. They grunt back. They also are too tired to muster up any words. I receive my test. It covers four chapters of the textbook, and I have 40 minutes to answer 75 multiple choice questions. I open my packet and read the first question. Is this even in English? I wonder.

After school, I surrender and fall asleep. I wake up two hours later and panic. I have two more tests tomorrow, plus I may have a pop quiz in three of my classes. I pull out my textbook and begin to read.

This is my reality as a student at a competitive high school. When I question the astronomical amount of homework and studying I do every night, I’m told, “If you can’t handle the work, don’t take the class.” But here’s the problem: colleges like it when we “challenge” ourselves. I remember when someone asked at a college info session if it’s better to get As in easy classes or Bs in hard classes. The woman leading the info session answered, “Get As in hard classes.”

I realized then that sleep (mental health) and success (getting into a good college) are mutually exclusive. I can only get a B on a biology test after at least 10 hours of studying. (There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get an A.) So, to even have a fighting chance in the admission process, I must sacrifice my sleep. I usually get three to five hours of sleep at night. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a full six hours.

I don’t need a sleep specialist to tell me my lifestyle is problematic. I’m cranky, detached, antisocial, and unhappy. What I do need is compassion. Schools and teachers should understand for the sake of their pupils that requiring at least six hours of sleep at night doesn’t make us unqualified for AP classes; it makes us human. As students, we must understand it’s okay to be human, and there’s such a thing as overworking ourselves. When we study so much that we don’t have even the energy to say hello to our friends, we most certainly don’t have enough to comprehend test questions.

I’m beginning to think that sleeping a little more and studying a little less will help us perform better on tests. As well as become pleasant people to be around.