Sleep is not often at the top of our priorities, but perhaps it should be
By Melanie Terez, ’14
It is a Wednesday morning. You arrive to school late as a result of staying up studying last night for today’s big test, and when it comes time to take it, your head feels foggy. As you work your way through the questions, your pencil begins to feel heavy in your hand and your mind continues to drift. This situation may sound familiar; a 2009 study done by the Journal of School Health, an organization that researches students’ well-being in school, found that the vast majority of 384 ninth-to-12th-graders surveyed were sleep deprived.
“Most respondents (91.9%) obtained inadequate sleep ([equal to or less than] 9 hours) on most school nights … with 10% reporting less than six hours of sleep each week night,” the Journal of School Health website states.
If 91.9 percent of UAHS students were sleep deprived, this would mean 1,757 students would not be receiving enough sleep each night.
After staying up late doing school work, it will consequently be difficult to wake up early the next morning. For teens and preteens it is even more difficult to wake up early for school.
Mayo Clinic, the world’s largest nonprofit medical practice and research organization explains why this is the case for young adults.
“Before adolescence,… circadian rhythms [The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of a 24-hour internal clock] direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m.,” the clinic’s website explains. “But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy— often until 11 p.m. or later.”
This tendency combined with early start times for school, results in an often constant state of sleep deprivation in teenagers.
Sophomore Robyn Goettler believes that this state of sleep deprivation is inevitable.
“With all the homework we have to do, and all the extra-curriculars we have, [and]… all the stress we put on ourselves, I definitely think we aren’t really thinking about, ‘I need to get eight hours of sleep.’ [We’re] just kind of thinking, ‘OK, have I done all the work I need to do?’” Goettler said.
Guidance counselor Mary Anne Nyeste agrees.
“We all want to be successful, we all want to accomplish the things we want to accomplish, and it just never seems like there are enough hours in the day,” she said. “There is never enough time, and I don’t know how we can train ourselves to say no to some things and be able to keep our health and our mental well-being.”
Nurse Laurie Long wrote in an email to Arlingtonian that the school nurses have a rule allowing students to get a little sleep during their school day, if necessary.
“Our rule is that kids can come and rest in the nurse’s office during their study hall or lunch for one period. Otherwise they have to have permission from their teacher,” Long said. “We wake them up at the end of the period to go to their next class.”
Long estimates that she sees one student per day stop for a nap. These students usually lay down for about a half-hour or so. Long believes that a student taking a 30-minute nap in her office is much more beneficial than a student missing an entire school day.
While grades, after-school activities and sports are often important, sleep is also important to physical and mental health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies sleep disorders, lack of sleep can limit one’s ability to concentrate, problem-solve, contribute to acne and unhealthy food cravings and lead to impatience or aggressiveness.
The Journal of School Health found that 83.6 percent of students surveyed had difficulty paying attention, 60.8 percent had lower grades, 59 percent had high stress levels, and 57.7 percent have had difficulty getting along with others. In addition, it was found that the fewer hours of sleep received, the higher the stress levels and the greater the likeliness teens have of being overweight.
Another study led by Mahmood Siddique, a sleep medicine specialist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey found a strong connection between sleep deprivation and depression in teenagers.
“The rate of depression among the students was very high. 30 percent of the teens had strong symptoms of depression, while an additional 32 percent had some depression symptoms, according to the study,” CNN reporter Anne Harding wrote in her 2010 article, Sleep Deprivation Linked to Depression in Teens.
The National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America poll also revealed that “Among adolescents who reported being unhappy, 73 percent reported not sleeping enough at night.”
Goettler agrees that sleep deprivation can impact a student’s overall mood and can lead to depression.
“I think depression gets worse when you’re stressed out. And [If you are] tired from the [school] work… [then] you’ll be stressed out… It definitely connects,” Goettler said.
Nyeste believes that sleep deprivation could also likely lead to anxiety.
“By the time [students] get to sleep, there aren’t many hours to sleep,” Nyeste said. “The cycle just builds and then you’re so anxious because [you think,] ‘I didn’t get everything done, and I didn’t get enough sleep, and now I have more responsibilities added to the mix because it’s a new day.’”
Sleep deprivation can damage one’s own health, but can harm someone else’s health as well.
The National Sleep Foundation found that lack of sleep can cause difficulty driving or operating machinery.
“When you are sleep deprived, you are as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which is illegal for drivers in many states. Drowsy driving causes over 100,000 crashes each year,” according to the foundation’s website.
While an adequate amount of sleep each night may be difficult to achieve while balancing responsibilities, there is no alternative to sleep that is equal to sleep itself.
Sleep medicine specialist Brandon Peters explains why caffeine, while it may seem like an quick and easy fix to fatigue, is not an effective replacement to sleep in his 2013 article Caffeine Is No Substitute for Sleep on SleepDisorders.About.com.
“Adenosine is present throughout the body and is associated with our cells’ ability to use stored energy. It is also a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, that has a key role in the brain. Most importantly, it leads to the initiation of sleep,” Peters said. “The longer a person stays awake, the more that adenosine accumulates in a region that promotes arousal or wakefulness. … Caffeine works by blocking the cell receptors for adenosine. This means that more adenosine can build up before its effect of promoting sleepiness occurs.”
While a trip to Starbucks might be a way to treat oneself, it may be advisable to not rely on that caffeine to get through the day.
With commitments to family, friends, school and extra-curriculars, sleep is often not first on one’s list of priorities. However, sleep is vital to our health. Without enough of it, we put ourselves in danger of both mental and physical consequences.
Image Caption: While balancing school and other responsibilities, students often find themselves not getting enough sleep. This lack of sleep can cause trouble paying attention in class.
Image by Sheridan Hendrix, ’14