by Kelly Sullivan ’19
Staying up past midnight at their desk, shoulders hunched and heavy eyes, students struggle with keeping up with school, while sacrificing the much-needed sleep their brain requires. Lack of sleep has been an issue for years, and more recently, cell phones have been a contributing source of sleep deprivation. But the addictive nature of the blue-light cell phone screens flashing texts or posts is not the sole reason for teenagers’ sleep deprivation as some parents may conclude. What really keeps students awake at night is the high demands for academic achievement.
According to a 2006 National Sleep Foundation survey, more than 87 percent of high school students get less than the recommended eight to 10 hours. The Huffington Post in 2015 concludes that 20 percent of teens get less than five hours per night.
For students, the pressure to compete with peers for college and being told to become “well-rounded” for a better application is stressful. Overwhelmed by doing homework for AP classes, participating in extracurricular activities and working part-time jobs, students struggle to stay afloat.
Junior Gabrielle Ferraro flounders with four hours of sleep a night, constantly struggling to maintain her grades, catch up with work on more than one AP, and focus her attention on the looming future to attend selective colleges such as University of Maryland.
“I’m just exhausted, I need time to rest my brain from school. [The pressure is] indescribable since there’s so many things to worry about in the future … it’s overwhelming,” said Ferraro.
Ferraro is not alone. “With academic demands and extracurricular activities, the kids are going nonstop until they fall asleep exhausted at night. There is not an emphasis on the importance of sleep, as there is with nutrition and exercise,” stated in the Stanford Medicine by Nanci Yuan, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford located in California. As the Huffington Post explains, nearly one in four teens go to bed past 11:30 p.m., usually those students performing worst at school than teens sleeping earlier. Younger teens, in particular, become more likely to be inattentive, impulsive, hyperactive and oppositional. Sleep deprivation may also lead to poor concentration, lower grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts.
As soon as teens hit the weekend, they sleep for more than just their recommended hours to make for their lack of sleep. They immediately go into deep sleep (REM sleep) for twelve hours, sometimes varying. Immediately going into deep sleep and sleeping in irregular hours during the week is unhealthy and spoils their normal sleep cycle. When disrupted, the sleep cycle is disorganized and functions poorly, and impairs memory, concentration and abstract thinking. Even with the accumulated hours of sleep during the weekends, it still does not fully recharge the individual when Monday comes around, students often feeling just as tired as before.
“We are requiring them to wake up at a time when their brain would otherwise be asleep,” stated Lisa J. Meltzer PhD, a sleep researcher and clinician from the American Psychological Association. “I don’t think we’re giving adolescents the opportunity to be the best they can be.”