Desperately Seeking Sleep
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Are you getting enough sleep? Coming out of third marking period and quarterly week, many of us may be feeling the effects of staying up all night studying, writing essays, or making projects for classes. For whatever reason you may be losing sleep at night, one thing’s for certain: you’re not alone. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as much as 70 percent of high school students don’t get enough sleep on school days. Teenagers should be getting an average of 8 to 10 hours of sleep in order to function to the best of their abilities during the day, but most seem to be lucky if they can get 7. So why is it that teens are getting so little sleep? And more importantly, what effects can a sleep deficit have on your health?
As we can all probably tell when the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 in the morning, waking up early is not the easiest feat for teenagers. Naturally, the biologic sleep patterns, or biorhythm, of adolescents shifts towards later hours for sleeping and waking. In fact, it is not normal for teenagers to fall asleep before 11 p.m. This raises an issue; most school schedules do not support the biorhythm of their students. On average, high schools in the U.S. start at 8:00 a.m., meaning teenagers are waking up several hours earlier in order to get ready for the day. Here at South, start time is 7:36 a.m. This means that if students follow their natural patterns of sleep and go to bed at 11 p.m, they are only able to get a maximum of about 8 hours of sleep a night- and even that would be considered “pushing it” for students who want to make it to school on time. Not to mention, a student waking up at 7:00 am is equivalent to an adult waking up at 4:00 am, therefore, simply going to sleep earlier would not help a drowsy teen if they have to get up early for school in the morning anyway. Based off of these facts, it’s easy to say that students today face a dilemma when it comes to following their biorhythms.
Of course, none of this would really matter if it weren’t for the effects that a lack of sleep can have on the human body. Not only will those suffering from a sleep deficit feel drowsy and sluggish during the day, but their abilities to react, think, work, and learn will all be negatively impacted. During sleep, the brain prepares for the next day; forming new pathways, reenergizing the body’s cells and clearing out waste- in turn supporting learning and memory. Without this period of repair, the brain will not be able to function normally throughout the day.
Think of a time you’ve snapped your parents or friends for seemingly no reason: lack of sleep could’ve played a part in causing this sudden mood swing. Mentally, sleep deprivation could make a person cranky and irritable, hindering their ability to get along with others and causing mood swings. Those who are sleep deprived can experience an inability to focus, trouble with memory, difficulty solving problems or lack of motivation or energy, all of which could seriously affect a person’s ability to perform in school or work if sleep loss is consistent over a long period of time. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to mental illnesses such as depression, increased stress and anxiety, hopelessness, and in extreme cases, suicide. If the mental effects of lack of sleep are not alarming enough, there are also physical effects that are equally, if not more, concerning for those inflicted. One purpose of sleep besides brain repair is the repair of heart and blood vessels. Therefore, sleep deficiency can be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke because the body will not have had enough time to restore itself overnight. Not only that, but lack of sleep has also been related to an increased risk of obesity; hormones such as cortisol which controls stress, ghrelin which tells the body when it’s hungry, and leptin which signals satiety all fluctuate and become imbalanced- resulting in increasingly unhealthy eating habits. Sleep also helps the immune system in fighting off infection, so losing hours of sleep could make the body more susceptible to illness and infection. Research done by the CDC found that insufficient sleep, meaning less than 8 hours a night, can be directly related to many unhealthy practices: cigarette, alcohol or marijuana use, participating in physical fights, lack of physical activity, increased time spent on electronic devices, or in extreme cases, seriously considering attempting suicide.
Overall, symptoms of sleeplessness can be an annoyance if experienced for a few days, but over time sleep deficiency can have detrimental effects on the body and ultimately have negative impacts on the health of the sufferer. Sleep is needed by the body in order to repair itself from the activities of the day and prepare itself for days to come. As can be seen by teenagers across the nation, getting the proper amount of sleep a night is becoming increasingly difficult; whether it be due to an abundance of responsibilities and after school activities, or to uncontrollable factors such as school start time. So what can be done to keep a healthy sleep schedule? As students we have limited control over our sleep schedules during the school year. The most important thing is ensuring you go to sleep at 11:00, or before if possible, and make sure that you get the proper amount of sleep on weekends and over the summer months. Remember, sleep is just as essential for a healthy lifestyle as eating well and exercising, so it should be taken seriously.