9:00. Finally. The build-up to this point, has been little less than exhausting. First, you finish your grueling day of school. Next, off you go to band practice for the next three hours. After that, you have a soccer match for the next two hours. And finally, you eat a rushed, but still enjoyable dinner with your family. Anyway, like I was saying, 9:00, time for a good night’s sleep… but just as you go to get on your bed, it occurs to you, you still have to finish a chemistry lab, read twenty pages out of your biology textbook, complete a worksheet on polynomials, write an essay, and complete your concert reflections from band; and that's just school-related. Let’s not forget about everything else going on in your life, like practicing for your clarinet recital, filling out a sign up for Speech and Debate, making posters for student council elections, creating a program for the upcoming hackathon, and finally, completing that trifold for Science Fair. For most highschoolers, two words come to mind. “All-Nighter” and “Grind”, both of which don’t involve sleeping.
This is a situation that most high schoolers face quite often, perhaps not to the super-procrastinating level that I have illustrated in the previous example, but definitely to a significant extent; which brings up the idea, do we undervalue sleep as a culture? Well, as you get older, your responsibilities become greater and greater, which only leads to a necessity for more time to be spent on accomplishing the goals corresponding with your responsibilities. This, in turn, causes you to prioritize your work over sleep. This is why in today’s society, I believe that as a culture, we undervalue sleep.
When it comes to sleep, ask yourself; “How many hours of sleep do you think you get, on average, every day?” Eight? Six? Ten? Three? Well, studies by the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 International Bedroom Poll, showed that “56 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 55 get an insufficient amount of sleep on workdays” (Kirkwood 1). This, of course, begs the question, how many hours of sleep are considered to be sufficient? Most sources agree that on average, a human needs anywhere from eight to ten hours each night. Now, let’s assume that you have to wake up every day at 6:00 a.m. Now, some simple math tells us that in order to receive the full benefits from your sleep, you have to go to bed at… 8:00 p.m. What! That's crazy, there's no way anyone could possibly sleep by then. I mean you might tell yourself that “I’m going to get 10 hours of sleep everyday no matter what” but in reality you will either choose to forget to sleep on time due to more pressing commitments or to straight out ignore you preferred bed time, in order finish some last minute homework, or in other people's cases, that entire season of the Flash that you have been watching for the past 2 hours.
This brings up another point, that as our society becomes more and more technology surrounded, people are becoming more attached to their internet-connected hubs that connect them to their media revolving lives. That’s right, I’m referring to smartphones, and all the media streaming options that come with them, such as Netflix, Spotify, and Youtube. In fact, Dr. Charles Czeisler, Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, explains that “electric light, especially the energy-efficient LED lights in most of our electronic devices, signal to the brain that it is daytime. When we use these devices before getting ready for bed, they suppress the nightly release of melatonin” (NATURE 2013). As some of you may know, melatonin is the hormone that tells your body when to sleep, and with that being suppressed, you won’t be able to sleep as early, causing you to lose valuable hours of rest. And when you are pressed to choose between technology and sleep, most people would probably choose to continue to use their screens.
Some might say that it is irrelevant how long you sleep one day, as long as you can compensate for it some other day, like the weekend. This, however, wouldn’t work because then you are trapped in a cycle that dictates your personality on weekdays and weekends. Really, statistics have proven that “inconsistent sleeping habits result in sleep loss that is reminiscent of flying west across several time zones every Friday evening and traveling back East come Monday morning. The pattern reveals a critical disparity between society-imposed obligations, like work and family commitments, and our innate biological clock” (Kirkwood 1). What this means is that, as people get more and more used to this chronic cycle of little sleep and then suddenly a lot of sleep; the human body reacts negatively, and hormones that control normal appetite or overall inhibitions to things like drugs and alcohols are altered significantly.
By now, I hope it's clear that yes, we do undervalue sleep as a culture. But not only do we just undervalue sleep, we find excuses not to sleep, thinking that they take a higher priority than getting a good night's rest. Identifying ways to combat our ignorance of how much sleep we need and technology’s role in our sleep schedules, without losing time to finish our tasks in the process, may ultimately be the only solution to this problem.