Sleep Deprivation

How much sleep in necessary?

By Tessa Ferguson, Talon staff writer

“When I haven’t slept enough, my way of thinking, learning, how I speak, and how I write—all these things are affected. I can be having a conversation with someone and not really remember what we were talking about a few minutes later,” said senior Simone McIntosh. “When I don’t get enough sleep, it can be really hard for me to function.”

For many teenagers, this is a problem they face every day. Recent studies have shown that teenagers require more sleep to perform optimally than do younger children or adults.

While adults need anywhere from 7.5-8 hours of sleep each night, teens require between 8.5 and 9 hours of sleep. One survey found that only 15 percent of students report getting 8.5 hours of sleep on a school night.

When teenagers are unable to make time for enough sleep, their ability to learn, concentrate, solve problems, listen, and comprehend things is strongly decreased. They are also much more likely to become ill, gain or lose weight, and react to things in an inappropriate or aggressive way due to lack of sleep.

“On days when I do not get enough sleep my body basically shuts down and it is very difficult for me to concentrate,” said McIntosh.

There are many factors that contribute to the amount of sleep teenagers get. During puberty a teen’s internal clock and circadian rhythms change. The internal clock drives our circadian rhythm while the circadian rhythms are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24 hour cycle.

These changes not only influence sleep cycles, appetite, hormonal changes and body temperature; it also delays the time of day that a teen becomes tired.

Teenagers typically start to feel the need to go to sleep around eleven at night, whereas in early adolescent years it was typically around eight or nine at night, making it more difficult to fall asleep at an earlier hour. When teens stay up later than 11 to do things like study or research for a big project, they are often disrupting their internal clock.

Academic pressures and jobs can also contribute to sleep deprivation. Not only that, but many students are waking up in the morning for school when their bodies are telling them that it’s still the middle of the night.

“It can be difficult going directly from school to work some days from four to ten.” junior Kersten Chelgren said, “Sometimes by the time I get home I am really tired and find it difficult to focus and do my homework.”

Sports are also a contributing factor.

“Some nights I have games until really late so I have to stay up late to complete my homework and study,” said junior sport-player Bengt Nelson.

Socializing and leisure activites obviously add to teens’ night-owl tendencies, as they stay up later due to things like spending time with friends and “multi-tasking”—watching television or going on the computer while doing homework or studying.

“Teenagers have so many different commitments and responsibilities that it can be difficult for them to balance everything, especially school and extracurriculars,” said Dr. Debra Johnson, a pediatrician at Healthpartners Riverside Clinic in Minneapolis.

“In the past ten years I have noticed a lot more students drift off during class then in the years before that,” said Minnehaha Academy teacher Mary Carlson.

Unlike most public schools, which start as early as 7:30 a.m., Minnehaha follows Minneapolis public schools in starting an hour later. In a study focused on 11th and 12th graders in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools, different school starting times were experimented with. Students who received higher grades had obtained more sleep and went to bed earlier than the students with lower grades. It concluded that “the students with greater school-week sleep lag were at a significant disadvantage for academic achievement owing to their decreased alertness and increased sleepiness during the day.”

It is said that just by having an hour adjustment of the school’s starting time can improve the students’ sleep time, giving them more time to get ready and arrive at school.

“All of the research I have heard suggests that starting at a later time is going to be much more beneficial for teenage learning, especially since teens have a natural tendency to not be able to fall asleep until later at night,” Dr. Don Townsend, Director of Sleep Services at the St. Paul Lung Clinic said.

There are many problems that go along with changing a school’s start time.

“There has been much debate because of things like budgetary purposes and busing schedules that a more uniform start time is needed,” said Townsend.

Things such as transportation costs, team athletics, after school extracurricular activities and jobs would all have to be changed.  In addition students would be returning home later and it would be a longer school day for teachers.

Due to circumstances and the unlikelihood of this happening in many schools, there are many ways to curb your loss of sleep and catch more of those oh-so-important Z’s that are vital to your well-being and health.

It is very important to make sleep a priority, even though that is a very difficult task for so many teenagers.

There are many different ways to improve your sleep habits—take “power naps,” don’t use any pills or vitamins to make you fall asleep, do not eat drink or exercise within a few hours of your bedtime, and set a schedule and strictly follow it.

“The most important thing to do is to get yourself on a sleep schedule.” said Debra Johnson. “Many teens don’t like to hear it, but you need to make it a priority, even on weekends—time management is the key.”

Sleep is food for the brain; don’t starve it.

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About Tessa Ferguson

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