Sleep deprivation and teenage health

Morgan Koehler, Reporter

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It’s no secret that teenagers don’t get enough sleep. Everyday, millions of teens in America wake up from their bed and find themselves exhausted. However, consequences occur due to sleep deprivation.

  The physical effects of sleep deprivation are nothing to scoff at. The New York Times reported increased risks of obesity, type two diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer can come with the lack of sleep. What’s worse, is sleep deprivation builds up throughout the week, accumulating in what is called “sleep debt.”

  This “sleep debt” is what causes car accidents and fatigue, as well as mood problems such as anxiety, depression, and irritability.

  Something as important as sleep will cause problems in the mental well being of teens as well. An inability to concentrate and an impaired memory can result in poor grades, an increased risks of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts are part of the effects of sleep deprivation.

  Waking up as a teenager at six in the morning is equivalent to waking up an adult at four. This causes irreversible damage to the brain.

  Mr. Pete Newton, a guidance counselor at the D.C. Everest Senior High School, says that not many come into the office for a lack of sleep, but it does often come up as a problem during the discussions.

  “Sleep deprivation is connected to depression, but students don’t often connect the two,” Mr. Newton said. “Sleep deprivation can cause physical harm in many ways, and may make depression worse.”

  At least 87 percent of teenagers in America don’t get the sleep they need, according to Stanford University. Teenagers need roughly eight hours of sleep to avoid certain health problems like increased risks of cancer and depression, but certain factors prevent them from getting the sleep they need.

  Roxie Kenitzer, the head nurse at D.C. Everest Senior High, agrees that students don’t get enough sleep.

  Although the nurses do not let students with sleep deprivation rest in the health room, they will help the students figure out ways to sleep more at home. They also find that students with chronic health issues, such as diabetes or migraines, and students who are physically ill can feel less ill with rest.

  Kenitzer says that students’ lives are very busy. “They work, go to school, have social lives, participate in athletics, in plays and drama, or in tech ed activities. They don’t have the time to dedicate to get the sleep they need.”

  Despite many students not getting enough sleep, Braylin Penrod, senior, is one of the few that may get the sleep they need every day.

  Penrod gets about seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and does not have any factors interfering with his sleep, such as homework or a part time job.

  One of these factors is school starting times. Eighty-six percent of schools start before 8:30 a.m., and one tenth start before 7:30 a.m.

  When schools start at 8:30 or later, students get more sleep, attendance goes up, grades improve, and there is a significant reduction in car accidents because many juniors and seniors drive their own cars to school. The New York Times reported that starting school later would contribute at least 83 billion dollars to the economy within a decade as a result of improved educational outcomes and reduced car crash rates. Students would also see an increase of about $17,500 in their lifetime earnings as a result of the change, estimated to be from increased academic performance, or the increased likelihood of graduating high school or college.

  Sleep restores damaged tissues, flushes toxins from the brain, and boosts learning and memory, which would improve grades and the general well-being of an individual.

  Another factor resulting in less sleep would be the use of electronics. The blue light emitted from the screens tells your body’s circadian clock (inner body clock that controls when you’re sleepy and when you’re awake based on a 24 hour cycle) that it isn’t nighttime yet, and therefore suppresses the body’s secretion of melatonin, which is the chemical in your brain that tells your body it is time for sleep. Seventy-two percent of the 92 percent of teenagers that own phones bring their phones into bed and use them when trying to sleep, which backfires and makes you stay awake longer.

 Experts recommend no screen time at least half an hour before sleep, and to build up the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same times.

  The final factor is the workload. Many students have hours of homework on any given day, and many have part time jobs and other obligations outside of school. This can cut into their sleep pattern due to the fact that many people give up their sleep to work late into the night.

  “Students try to take on too much,” Mr. Newton said. “They work too many hours.”

  Malory Smith, a sophomore, is one of these students.

  Smith gets five or six hours of sleep per night if she has no homework. She sometimes works a part time job for five or more hours and arrives home at 10 at night. Smith also has problems falling asleep once she gets to bed.

  Sleep deprivation is a problem for teens. The lack of sleep can harm them in many ways. If this is going to change, then everyone—students, schools, parents, scientists, etc—needs to work together and make adjustments to the system, at home, at schools, and in the workplace.

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