High School Students Are Sleep Deprived

October 10, 2007
By Sammi Pearlman, Syosset, NY

It’s a quarter after six in the morning and you hear a loud beep. All that you can process is that the sound is really loud, and more than that, you want go back to sleep. You didn’t get to sleep until eleven because of all the homework, studying, clubs and sports practices you had. Why should you be up? It’s still dark outside. Yawn.

Does this sound familiar? To most teenagers, it does. On average, high school teenagers get about seven hours of sleep each night during the school week. Research, however, shows that adolescents need at least nine hours of sleep per night. If you add up the missing hours, it equals about ten more hours of sleep per week. Lack of sleep affects your ability to stay alert and concentrate in class. But that’s not all. There are more serious issues, such as irritability, symptoms for early-stage diabetes/premature aging, memory problems and a weakened immune system.

Like me, a lot of teenagers have younger siblings. Our parents believe that they are the ones that need more sleep because they’re younger, but it’s really the other way around. Because of this, teenagers become sleep deprived, or fall into a “sleep debt.” This may mean that they have difficulty falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning. Or, that we sleep more on the weekends to make up for lost sleep during the week. Sounds like a good plan, right? Wrong. This messes up our “biological clocks,” a group of cells that can sense light and dark. Timing of sleep and wakening is very dependent on the sun. In other words, we want to sleep when it’s dark and we’re up when it’s light out. But it’s difficult to obtain restful sleep when the “biological clock” is switched on or stay awake when it’s switched off. Basically, the time that we go to sleep and wake up for school throws off our whole natural sleeping schedule.
Now the school day has started. As you move through your classes, you feel that you are becoming less and less tired. This is true. Studies show that for the most part, teenagers are most alert and awake at 10 A.M. My high school, like many others in the country, starts at 7:30 in the morning. This is mostly because our buses need to go to multiple routes for different schools in the district. However, some high schools have been experimenting with this. For example, high schools in Minnesota have started their classes just one hour later than ours. They have reported that not only were student grades up, but discipline problems were down. So now the question is, “Why don’t high schools start later? There are so many more benefits.” And the answer? That’s a good question.
In the late 1970s, St. Mary’s Medical Center did a study on sleep. They made an excellent point. Without a doubt, sleepiness is associated with poor school performance, in general. This includes increased drug and alcohol use, an increased number of automobile accidents, and may also be a major part in the high rate of teenage suicides.
Yes, getting more sleep would solve a lot of problems. However, it’s not the entire solution. You can benefit from improving the quality of your sleep. Stick to a regular schedule for going to bed and waking up, even on weekends, and get some exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. Do you make a trip to Starbucks every morning? Skip it. Caffeine can only make you more tired. One of the most prominent issues is that high schoolers have too much work to do at night. To help them sleep better, they should plan ahead so that they have time to relax before they go to sleep.
All this arguing is making me tired. Is it time for bed yet?

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