Opinion

Sleep in a teenager’s life: why “late” should be the new normal

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A lack of sleep affects teenagers both in and out of the classroom. Source: US News and World Report

By LEO KRAPP
AP Lang Student

In first-world countries across the globe, sleep and high school have always engaged in deadly combat. The current perception is that these two words are opposites: quite simply, they cannot coexist. Millions of hardworking teenagers are currently fighting against this paradox. How does one work until two in the morning, and still get enough rest to function the next day? It is a fight that high schoolers almost never win.

Time writes that children and teenagers have been getting “less sleep than experts recommended […] for the past 100 years.” This may be because as median wealth increases, so does the demand for good education; as more kids are able to go to college, competition for entry into those schools increases as well. Many of my fellow students claim that they are driven both by intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to prioritize academic excellence and achievement over maintaining their health through sleep. Sleep deprivation has been proven to have a significant impact on one’s short-term and long-term health. WebMd states that sleep deprivation impairs cognitive abilities, and can cause major health problems like heart disease, weight gain and a weakened immune system. It is clear from this information that spending an extra two hours studying for a test is relatively meaningless when compared to possible death and disease. However, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry writes that in teenagers “the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later.” This means that teenagers are less likely to be able to make the appropriate decisions for their health, especially when it comes to school. Thus as a result of pressure and lack of proper decision making, many teens do extreme damage to their bodies while in high school. This is why, as we fight to increase awareness of this issue, public and private schools should do everything in their power to help solve this issue.

In high schools across the nation, and especially at our school, there is very little anybody can do to stop students from over-working themselves. As a countermeasure to this, the Irvine Unified School District and other districts across the nation should make it public policy to change start times from 8 o’clock to 8:30 or even 9. The UCLA Sleep Center states that teenagers need an average of nine hours of sleep. Many students at Uni not only have several hours of homework per night, they also work jobs after school, attend sports practices and orchestra recitals and help their families. Sleep often loses out to these activities. The UCLA Sleep Center also states that a teenager’s circadian rhythm naturally shifts later and later, making students sleepy only around 11 P.M. Even if the average Uni student finishes everything he or she needs to do and goes to sleep promptly at 11, he or she is still getting only eight hours of sleep. This is a rare occurrence, and many students would be more than satisfied with getting a full eight hours of sleep. This example doesn’t even take into account the many people who have elected to take a zero period, and thus start an hour earlier. This proves that even a small shift to the schedule would have serious positive effects on almost every student on our campus.

There are many people who claim that a later start will ultimately be detrimental to students, because it will affect both practice and sleep schedules. However, I believe that it may also help solve problems like procrastination, which will in turn allow students to sleep more. Another huge issue related to sleep and teenagers is the issue of changing circadian rhythms. Many teenagers believe that sleeping into the afternoons on weekends will allow them to catch up on the sleep they missed during the week. This makes it harder to go to sleep and wake up on weekdays, which can impair academic achievement. A later start would serve to combat all these issues.

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