Sleep deprivation rises in high schools
June 6, 2017
6:00 a.m. Wake up!
:10 a.m. I’m so tired.
:25 am. I should get out of bed..
6:30 a.m. I really need to get breakfast.
6:31 a.m. I’m so tired. I’ll take a power nap.
6:50 a.m. Wow I have ten minutes to get ready!
7:00 a.m. Shoot I’ll just grab an apple on my way out.
7:25 a.m. I forgot my apple.
Waking up with the birds after a late night can be simply exhausting. Late nights consisting of extracurriculars, work, homework, studying or all of the above are a norm in the lives of high school students. Stanford Medicine indicates that since the 1990s, teens have had a biological tendency to go to bed as much as two hours later than their younger counterparts. So even if none of the above are taking up time in the after school hours of certain students, odds are they still go to bed late.
After a long day of school, tests and presentations, students often take time afterwards to unwind before they embark on these activities. This may include having a snack, watching TV, or even napping to catch up on the sleep they missed the previous night. Similarly, when doing hours of studying, it is common for teenagers to take much needed breaks, usually to check their cell phones before diving into more homework. With 31.7 percent of students spending 3-4 hours on their homework, it is expected of them to allow time to relax. These needed breaks may seem short, but the accumulated minutes push back bedtimes even more.
Sports, clubs, jobs and volunteer hours are just a few of the after-school activities that also contribute to the distancing of bedtimes. In fact, 54 percent of students spend over two hours on after school on these activities. Assuming said activities are right after school and taking into account driving time, students don’t get home from school until at least 5:30 p.m. This leaves about four hours for homework, dinner, family-time and downtime before students should go to bed to get the suggested time of, according to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, 9 to 9.5 hours sleep.
Regardless, these long nights are typically devoted to school work. Students often feel pressure from their parents, friends, school and even themselves to overachieve and avoid disappointment. In a survey of 186 Homestead students, over half of them shared that they feel pressured by the expectations their school upholds. This pressure leads students to take on heavy course loads that contribute to a lack of sleep. Pressure in schools grows as students move through grade levels, moving towards standardized testing and college applications, so bedtimes consequently get pushed back. And although this pressure may push students to go the extra mile and turn that B+ into an A-, the repercussions may hinder their success.
Mr. William Woessner, school psychologist, explained that repetitive sleep loss leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which is becoming more and more common in teenagers. According to Ruthann Richter, director of media relations for the Stanford medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs, this “impairs the ability to remember, concentrate, think abstractly and solve problems.” Consequently, school success deteriorates. And of course, when grades go down, hours devoted to fixing such grade go up, rendering students’ sleep time to decrease even more. Richter explains that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood teens will suffer from “an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts,” among other things.
These repercussions truly endanger both the student’s success and safety. Driving while tired is often compared to driving drunk. According to the National Sleep Foundation, both contribute to a lack in attention and slow responsiveness; “a drunk driver can often drive slowly and try to react, but a drowsy driver can nod off while still going fast.” So really, drowsy driving is worse than drunk driving. Moreover, the National Sleep Foundation states that around one third of people have actually fallen asleep on the wheel.
Kate Price, junior, shared, “After a long week of school and dance, I was driving home late on a Friday night from a friend’s house, and I fell asleep behind the wheel for a second. This caused me to drive over the curb, and I woke up immediately very alert and scared. The lack of sleep I get made it very easy to lose sight of my surroundings.”
In addition to damage of academic success, chronic sleep deprivation in teenagers can have dramatic effects on their energy and health. Most adults equate teenagers moodiness to changing hormones, but most students experience irritable moods when overly tired. One night of poor sleep is typically associated with lack of focus, moodiness, and fatigue, but long-term sleep deprivation can have many health consequences such as an increased risk for colds, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, which can lower life expectancy. According to Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Patrick Finan Ph.D, sleep deprivation can cause a 48% increase in developing heart disease. It can also be linked to weight gain, mood disorders and a higher alcohol use.
Sleep deprivation also has significant effects on the brain. Mentally, sleep deprivation can increase the possibility of anxiety, depression, irritability and constant distraction. It can greatly age one’s brain by several years and can cause dementia. Finan also concluded that lack of sleep can cause a 33% increase in dementia risk. Additionally, one’s circadian rhythm, the internal mental clock, can become messed up. Woessner explains how trying to nap to make up for lost sleep starts to become a problem when the duration of them exceed an hour, and making up for it on the weekend doesn’t make anything better. “Sometimes, if [your circadian rhythm] gets disrupted, if you don’t complete a cycle, you wake up feeling groggy, you wake up feeling confused, you wake up feeling disoriented. It’s like when you wake up in the middle of a dream,” Woessner said.
The issue of sleep deprivation in high schools is prevalent, but unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. The closest thing to it is to simply balance out your priorities. “It’s all a matter of time management,” Woessner said.