Making The Choice: The Health of the Student or the Grades They Produce

Shannon Flynn

Staff Writer

Shannon Feature Story PictureEvery student at one point in their academic career comes to the point when a choice is made, and grades come before mental health. This is seen from all ages when the pressure and stress of getting something done takes precedence over the health and wellbeing of the student. Whether it comes in the form of an occasional extra hour of homework, or the long term bad habits of constant putting the body’s needs aside, choosing grades over health can affect students even after the grade book closes. Small bad habits can lead to the lack of sleep, bad eating habits, and overall lack of care for the health of a student.

A major bad habit of the buildup of assignments that push students to be up such late hours can be the procrastination that happens the hours before it even gets dark outside. In the case between getting more sleep and finishing homework due the next day, students typically chose to finish their work, over getting enough sleep to function healthily. Procrastinating and avoiding challenging or overwhelming homework is common for anyone. However the hours spent avoiding whatever homework needs to be done are wasted and the assignment remains unfinished. This leads then to the overwhelming amount of work that needs to get done, which carries into the late hours, depriving the student of sleep and well needed rest fo the next day. The habit of procrastination creates a cycle of saving work until late at night, getting little to no sleep, and being tired the next school day, then repeating the same thing. Staying up so late can make any student groggy and unfocused during classes, a mood that more than half the students share the first periods of the day. Coming home can seem like such a relief to any high school student, for the after school nap that carries through the afternoon hours. These naps can seem absolutely necessary when taken, but often leave you feeling more tired than before and a generally gross feeling after waking back up. Long unplanned naps can be worse for productivity that any others. According to AP Psychology teacher Ms. DiGiacomo, long unplanned naps can leave you worse than before, and won’t really help. Ms. Digiacomo said that the deeper parts of your sleep that happen later in the night (called REM) are what really get you rested. Long naps can interrupt the deeper levels of rest which is what can make you feel so sick when waking up. Also, Ms. Digiacomo said a fact most people do not know is, “there is no way to make up sleep debts.” What that means she explained, is that you can’t make up sleep later in the day to help what you missed the night before. This leaves you with chances of cognitive issues even though you think you have ‘caught up’ on sleep, which is truly not an accurate phrase. According to the Sleep Foundation’s website,, 20-30 minute naps can lead to the most productivity and rest for the brain. They also leave the least amount of grogginess and the most alertness without any inference on a regular nightly sleep schedule. These shorter naps can be much better to relieve a student from a late night, and then leave them ready to finish work before late hours, giving them a better night’s rest for the next day. There are ways to avoid having to make a choice between sleep and work to ensure every person can get enough sleep, because the lack of sleep can do more than just affect your mood day by day but can create long term problems. Getting enough sleep can make a significant difference in your grade but more importantly your health, because as much as you may think it’s possible, there is no way into tricking your body or brain to think it is getting enough of something that it is not.

Besides the never ending need for more sleep, students everyday make choices to put their homework and academic career above the need for healthy food and a good diet. Most students avoid breakfast all together, the most important meal of the day. According to William Cochran M.D.,  former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, who wrote on the article “The Case for Eating Breakfast” on the website,, “As the first meal, it gets the body reader for the rest of the day.” Also he noted that as much as 20-30 percent of teens skip the meal time all together even when knowing the importance of the food they’re missing every day.   Getting up at a typical time like six in the morning can give students barely enough time to get themselves together and get to their bus stop, or catch a ride to school. There seems to be no time to try and even think about a balanced meal let alone put one together to get any sustenance for the day ahead. Any health class, doctor, or parent will tell you it is important to go into school with a full stomach to be able to think clearly. However with classes starting at seven twenty, basically the crack of dawn, there is very little time to take a minute to eat, leaving students to walk into their stressful and challenging classes on an empty stomach, and there seems to be no alternative. The same article, “The Case for Eating Breakfast” which was featured in the Healthy Children’s Magazine also gave some ideas for students who don’t have any time for the movie esque sit-down dinner with the family, which is the case for most students at any age. Granola bars can be eaten on the way to school, just like any type of breakfast bar or on-the-go fruit. Even a protein shake can help get some sort of nutrients to the body, even if it’s drunk before the sun even comes up. Any solution to get a quick fix is better than running off to class before getting anything but some toothpaste in your system before a long day of using the brain.

Students, who balance school work, clubs and extracurricular activities, including sports, most likely have a million more things they feel they should be thinking about before their health. Often to keep their head above water a choice has to be made to take one problem out of the question, whether it is quitting club or dropping out from a sports team. However a choice between specifically grades and exercise are a lose-lose situation for the student. There needs to be a balance between the two to be handled in the right way. It is obvious that exercise helps the body stay in shape and feeling well, but it can actually help grades, not just be put up against them. Physical Education teacher, Mr. Bevino described the real reason why grades and exercise can have a direct correlation.  He said that when the body works out the heart works to generate more blood to send into your system. The blood carries the nutrients and oxygen to all of the body including the brain. Bevino said that when the brain gets the oxygen it becomes more alert and has an easier time focusing which can be helpful to stay attentive during school. According to Mr. Bevino, “It has been proven that there is no doubt there is a direct correlation.” Physical Education teacher Mrs.GaNun also agreed that exercise should be paired with a student’s academic habits, not a time to choose one or the other. The activity that excites the brain can be beneficial after the school day and in the middle of it in student’s gym classes. The break in the school day to get the blood flowing can help for the periods coming after gym, once your body and brain have been woken up to retain more information and obtain more material. Mrs. GaNun’s opinion had been directly proven in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The journal looked at about 5,000 students whose activities and exercise was measured since age 11. The activity had later been connected to the academic performance if the students on their general district exam, the GCSE. According to the journal, “By the time the kids took the GCSE exam, each 17 minute per day increase in physical activity for the boys were linked to an improvement in their score. Adding an additional 12 minutes of exercise a day for the girls was linked to an increased score as well, especially in the science category.” Showing the beneficial link made that Mr. Bevino and Mrs. GaNun had explained. Adding in at least minimal exercise to get blood flowing could help the students, a much better option than choosing sports over scores or vice versa, and having to pick between health or grades.

The main factor to remember in any academic career is to find the balance in all the aspects needed to succeed. Sleep, diet, exercise, and afterthought issues need to work together to achieve good grades. By choosing one over the other something must give. If a student chooses to work over sleep or do homework instead of homework, the short term grade may be satisfying but their health will be compromised. To find a certain harmony with the overwhelming parts of the daily life of a student can be a relief, although not likely for most.  However, small victories can help the grades and life of students on a daily basis, to help excel in an academic aspect and in the overall wellbeing of the person.

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