The Sleepless Epidemic

By Morgan Ellsworth.

Have you ever thought that maybe some of the attitude we as teenagers possess that is brushed off as teenage angst or moodiness is really the side effect of chronic sleep-deprivation? In today’s society, practically everything is more important than getting a good night’s sleep, even if it means sacrificing our physical and mental health. Teenagers should be getting anywhere from eight to ten hours of sleep at night; however, only about 8% of teens actually sleep for the time required to function normally. This means that a drastic majority of students are living with either mild or severe sleep deprivation.

One of the first things affected by lack of sleep is mood. Dr. Meldrum explains, “There’s a theory that views self-control not as a stable personality trait, but as something that is subject to the strains and stressors of the environment that people have to navigate on a daily basis. So imagine that self-control is like a muscle—if we exert a lot of energy and expend a lot of effort we need rest and recuperation in order to restore one’s ability to self-regulate.” Without the proper amount of sleep a person will lose the ability control and cope with their emotions properly. Lack of sleep leads to depression and depression makes it hard to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle that sometimes even tragically can lead to suicide.

Sleep is important for overall health, and inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems. Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. All of which are risk factors for coronary artery disease, which has been the leading cause of death globally for the past fifteen years (World).

Sleep deprivation is very dangerous. Not only is that person hurting their own health, but when they get behind the wheel to drive to school after only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep they are putting everyone else one the road with them at risk. Sleep-deprived people who were tested using a driving simulator or performed hand-eye coordination tasks did as badly as, or worse than, people who were intoxicated. Drowsy driving causes thousands of car crashes each year, some even fatal.

With more than half of American teenagers living with chronic sleep deprivation, parents and teachers tend to overlook the profound effects it has on kids’ physical, mental and behavioral health. The sleep deficit is not, in fact, a normal part of being a teenager. It’s part of an invisible epidemic that we need to start addressing. Here are a few tips some students have found helpful in their own endeavors of getting more sleep:

  1. Streamline your morning. Pack up your backpack, lay out your clothes, pack  your lunch, do all your morning prep stuff the day before so you can sleep in as long as possible.
  2. Use the “dead” parts of the day to get things done. If you have a long commute to and from school use that time to study or do some homework. One student talked about getting his homework done during the rehearsals for the musical by doing it while he wasn’t required on stage.
  3. Work in a way that works. The best way I’ve found for me is working for 30-45 minutes then taking a 10 minute break to get up and stretch or grab a drink of water then come back refreshed and ready to continue.
  4. Don’t watch TV on school nights. If your parents haven’t already made this a household rule then make it a rule for yourself. It’s important to be efficient with your time because there’s only so many hours between when you get home and when you need to go to bed. If you have other things to do, even one episode of your favorite show could keep you up later than you should be.
  5. Do your computer homework first. If a computer is required for any of your homework do it earlier in the evening then do the work that doesn’t require a computer later because the blue-light from computers and all other electronic devices suppresses the production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes you feel tired.
  6. Don’t be on your phone right before bed (blue-light). I’m as guilty of the late night social-media scroll as anyone but being on your phone at night prevents melatonin production and is keeping your brain awake when you’re trying to sleep. Consider keeping your phone in a different room from the one you sleep in.

The fact of the matter is that getting enough sleep at night is probably not your number one priority right now. If you’re anything like me you think that you will be able to get on a better sleep schedule later, “when you have more time.” But there will always only be 24 hours in a day so make the time. When will you get on a better sleep schedule? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year? No, right now. The habits that you set now will stick with you for the rest of your life. Your health is important! Protect it.

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