It seems that few people these days understand that sleep is equally as important as eating and breathing. Sleep isn’t optional. You need it to survive. Especially in today’s world where things are moving fast and you are expected to keep pace. Studies regarding sleeping habits among teenagers come to some of the most distressing conclusions, yet it seems like no one is talking about them. Experts report that teenagers need eight and half to nine hours of sleep. This is not a soft “need.” This “need” means need-need or their productivity will be cut in half and their attention span will walk off a cliff. This isn’t an argument, this is science. Teenagers need more sleep than any other age group. According to the National Sleep Foundation, in 2006, only 20 percent of all teenagers got that optimal amount on a school night. If you were to zero in on teens in grades 9 through 12, only 9 percent got optimal hours of sleep. Nine percent. If that statistic was to hold true today, that means out of the approximately 530 students enrolled at NHS right now, only 48 are getting the required eight hours of sleep. That was 2006, now it’s 2017 and experts are reporting lower and lower percentages. Two out of three students are found to be severely sleep deprived in many parts of this country, and things are just going to get worse if we don’t make it better very quickly.
Lack of sleep happens for a lot of reasons. Some would argue that kids stay up late on their phones, or watching TV, or talking to their friends - and educators are quick to jump to this conclusion as well. They assume that if we push school back (one of the many suggested solutions to the problem) then kids will just “stay up later.” However, I would argue that the extent of this problem goes far beyond kids being lazy and putting off their homework, or because they want to stay up late (because that certainly doesn’t hold up, ask any teenager you know).
In recent years, getting little to no sleep as a teenager has become almost like a trend. Conversations among students often include obvious bragging about how late they’ve stayed up all week, or how yesterday they pulled an all-nighter to study for one of their many AP classes. Half of my conversations with friends include the phrase, “I stayed up so late last night,” or “I just want to go home and sleep.” Even if you didn’t stay up late doing homework, it’s become the accepted norm to say you did when people ask so you don’t look lazy. We’ve created a standard that makes getting the right amount of sleep look lazy. Being so physically and mentally exhausted you can’t focus has become normal. Prioritizing work over sleep is expected.
“I’m so tired” has become a conversation filler.
Obviously, one or two nights where you don’t get enough sleep is normal. But kids these days aren’t just getting one or two. It’s turned into whole weeks or more of constant lack of sleep. Do we really want to be inviting students to participate in an environment where this is normal?
Because of this, sleep is now placed last on the list of “important things a teenager needs to do.” A couple spaces below “homework” and “drink water.”
And this has created a cycle that consists of kids coming home after school and sports, exhausted from a lack of sleep the night before and taking on homework that should take three hours, but takes five because they are so tired they can’t focus. A recent study of over 9,000 students in eight Minnesota public schools found that even starting school a half hour later - giving students just that much more sleep - saw a noticeable rise in GPA and standardized test scores.
Because they were alert, focused, and could get their work done faster, they went to bed earlier, breaking the sleep deprivation cycle.
Now I get it. “Life isn’t fair,” and you’ll always have to wake up early whether it be for work or meetings etc.. But we’re not adults, we’re still kids, and we’re growing and developing at rapid rates. Lack of sleep is directly tied to suicide, obesity, high blood sugar, and depression. It impacts us more than we think. Insufficient sleep literally impairs your judgment to a point where driving in a sleep-deprived state is like driving drunk. You get moody and frustrated more easily. You start zoning out during classes and may miss important lessons. You have to repeatedly ask what a friend just told you twice already because your attention span is spent. You’re hungrier so you snack more often and then wonder why you just ate so much.
We’ve all been there.
I’m not saying teenagers should be treated like babies who get nap time after lunch (though I’m not objecting to the idea), but more emphasis needs to be put on its importance. How much sleep you get in a night determines how your day will go and how productive and attentive you will be. How much sleep you get in a night basically determines who you are throughout the day: functional or not. I feel as though no one is addressing the fact that almost everyone in in high school is tired all the time. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to have the most energy as a teenager, not the least. Ask a teenager what he or she would rather be doing at any given moment and nine times out of ten, he or she will say, sleeping. We need to stop writing that off as, “oh, that’s just how teenagers are” or “well this generation is lazy” and actually realize how sad it is that so many of us have so little energy we can barely get through a school day. The more people blame teenagers for the problem, the more the adults in their world call them lazy - just for being sleepy - the more part of the problem you become.