Sleep is exceptionally important to life. It’s as necessary as breathing or eating. The technological advances of society, such as light, have brought much in improvement for society, but it’s also come at the consequence of our health. For instance, the advent of artificial light has altered the human circadian rhythm so that humans go to sleep at later times in the night. While sleep deprivation is a problem that many adults experience (about one-third of adults in the US according to the US Centers for Disease Control), teenagers experience sleep deprivation on a whole other level. The National Sleep Foundation cites research that more than 85 percent of teenagers get less than the recommended nightly eight hours of sleep. It’s unfortunate that many teenagers today, for a variety of reasons, don’t get the amount of sleep that they need in order to live healthy lives. As part of the course Analyzing Data with Python, I’ve chosen to study teen sleep habits at my school.
Out of 40 students from grades 9 to 12 at my high school asked, 34 responded. A significant number of those students reported that they didn’t get enough sleep. Teenagers until age 18 need eight to nine and one-half hours of sleep per night. Over 96 per cent of respondents experience sleep deprivation to some extent. Seventy-nine percent of students reported getting less than seven hours of sleep, which is severe sleep deprivation. Eighteen percent of respondents reported getting seven hours or more of sleep, but less than eight hours, which is still not enough sleep for teenagers. This indicates that ninety-six percent of students suffered from sleep deprivation! While the figure cited from the National Sleep Foundation was astounding, the fact that sleep deprivation is even more epidemic at my school is a serious concern.
I think that the teenage years are particularly difficult one in terms of sleep. As the generation to be the first to grow up with the computer and smartphones, this generation has been exposed to a constant onslaught of information. Further, this generation has been subjected to the effects of using smartphones in bed, namely an adjustment of the circadian rhythm that occurs due to the brain’s confusion of the light from the smartphone. This adjustment compounds the already delayed circadian rhythm that teenagers experience as a natural part of development. But there’s also problems arising from the way that teens live their lives in general. That is to say, the societal expectations that teenagers experience also play a factor in the epidemic that is sleep deprivation.
More than ever, life has become more hectic for everyone. And, this has certainly extended to teenagers as well. With the heightened presence of college admissions around the corner, many teenagers try to become “all-rounded” individuals and consequently extend themselves so that they can achieve higher. This is particularly noticeable when it comes time for tests: many students will attempt to pull long study sessions in the hopes of achieving a higher level of content mastery. However, perhaps these long study sessions are not in the best interest of students. While it may seem beneficial to study in order to achieve a higher score on a test, it is very important to note the significant effects that sleep deprivation has on teens’ health. Compounding this problem is the significant number of schools that begin school at times earlier than 08:30 as shown below.
In a 2006 poll from the National Sleep Foundation, 73% of the surveyed adolescents who reported feeling “unhappy, sad, or depressed also report[ed] not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day”. Beyond mood, teenage sleep deprivation has the ability to impact many other people. Sleep deprived teen drivers tend to practice riskier behavior when driving. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation has compared driving when sleep deprived to driving with a 0.08% BAC! And, teens that are sleep deprived tend to practice unprotected sex more frequently than those who are not. Sleep deprivation can affect more than just yourself.
Thank you for taking the time to read through my article. I hope that you have become more informed about the epidemic that is teen sleep deprivation and are motivated to improve your sleep habits. I’d like to share with you what I call the streak chart. Based on the principle that it takes two weeks of consecutive action in order to solidify a habit, the streak chart encourages people to develop sustainable sleeping habits and to take notes regarding sleep if the need arises to see a doctor. Aside from personal habits, I encourage you to encourage your school to push school start times later. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 08:30, but most schools in the United States start before this time. And finally, if someone ever tells you about an all-nighter that they pulled, try telling them how good it feels to get a full night’s sleep. Godspeed to you in the journey that is achieving better health.