It’s a tale as old as time.
Students aren’t getting as much sleep as our growing minds need to develop properly, retain information, and continue to function.
Being surrounded by students who can only muster enough energy to murmur answers in my general direction makes me wonder just how much sleep they’re actually getting every night, and why this problem never seems to disappear.
If this is how the next working generation is being taught to make it through a long week, or just barely achieve the grades they need for university, how will we be able to keep up with the knowledge and skill-set needed to succeed in life?
The majority of teens I spoke to when researching this piece say that they’re getting around between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, which is just shy of the 8-10 hours recommended by The National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Many are getting much less than that.
“I think my sleeping habits have a huge affect on the rest of my day,” says Carihi student Talia Hadikin. “If I don’t get enough sleep, I find it difficult to concentrate on many tasks, and … find myself moody and more emotional than normal.”
Personally, I’m a member of the extremely-irritable-and-unpleasant crowd if I’m running on less than eight hours of sleep, so losing even an hour or two means that my whole routine will be off.
Alternatively, some students don’t see having an off-night as being a cause of dysfunction throughout the days that follow.
Carihi student and Mirror contributor Anna Buck says that unless sleep loss becomes a recurring problem, she “can get no sleep at all one night and the following day isn’t affected.”
However, Buck agrees that repetitive disruptions do cause noticeable changes to her daily life, saying “if I go more than one or two sleepless nights in a row, it really takes a toll on my mental and physical well-being.”
According to studies done by NSF, students don’t function to the best of their abilities if they receive anything less than nine hours of sleep. But for students to attend school, extra-curriculars, work, and still have time for homework and other necessary processes like eating and showering can be quite a stretch, as time before and after school gets used up very quickly.
So how can we be expected to fulfill our responsibilities to the best of our ability and stay caught up on sleep, and where do we leave time for our friends and families?
I asked around, and some of my classmates have found their own tried and true methods to setting a sleep routine that actually works.
“I’ve set a sleeping schedule where I try and go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. It works very well as long as I follow it,” says Carihi student Lukas Guderjahn.
In addition, what some may view as an ordinary action, but has been proven to be detrimental to our sleep cycles, is using our phones before going to bed. This is something that many students are aware of, and are trying their best to curb.
“I’ve tried putting my phone away before I go to bed, but it never really works,” says Carihi student Claire Pollock.
Buck also claims to be “guilty” of using her phone before she goes to sleep. She’s likely in the majority on that.
Other things like caffeine consumption, exercise patterns, room temperature, and lighting can affect the quality and quantity of adolescents’ sleep, especially during the school or work week.
NSF adds that things like showering in the evening and taking short naps in the early afternoon as a pick-me-up could be beneficial to establishing healthy sleep hygiene.
So what about things like vitamins or nighttime teas, which claim to assist the body in relaxing for sleep and producing the appropriate hormones to kick-start this process?
Buck credits her steady sleep patterns to the use of supplemental melatonin, which she takes before bed.
“I often find this helpful … [and] my melatonin levels often benefit from the boost. However, I sometimes find that taking it more often than necessary decreases its effectiveness, but I’m not sure why that is,” She adds.
Another key factor in maintaining a normal sleep schedule is engaging in frequent exercise, preferably in the morning or early afternoon.
Sleep deprivation is a huge problem, and often ends up turning regular teenagers into zombies, rather than consistently having the energy and motivation necessary to thrive in our academic and personal lives.
But there are tons of ways for us to ensure we’re getting as much sleep as we possibly can in the time frames we’re given. It’s truly just a matter of finding the tricks that work for each individual, as the effectiveness of techniques will vary depending on the person.
As students, we have been equipped with numerous methods to increase the quality and quantity of restful hours we get on a daily basis, so now is the time to test some out, or we’ll continue to battle sleep loss and the effects that often accompany it.
According to a study done by Richard P. Atkinson for Salem Psychology and Mental Health, the main purpose of sleeping is to repair and restore all areas of the body, so when this cycle is disrupted over long periods of time, the body’s immune function, rehabilitative processes, and cognitive abilities (such as memory and ability to take in new information).
This lack of rest isn’t just making us grumpy, it’s actually hurting our psychological development; without completing a full REM cycle (Rapid Eye Movement, used to address biological function while we’re unconscious), there is no way for our brains to retain all of the information gathered throughout the day, which poses a problem when it comes to keeping up with our academics.
Have a big test tomorrow but stayed up half of the night studying? Well, it turns out that cramming instead of sleeping can actually be worse for your mind than sleeping, according to Science Daily. “All-nighters activate short-term, not long-term memory.”
In addition, David Earnest, PhD and professor at The Texas A&M College of Medicine claims that “your brain loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation,” rendering those last few hours of hard work virtually useless.
Earnest also says “by studying all night, you’re essentially swimming upstream and fighting against your body’s natural rhythms,” and warns students to cherish the time you need to be asleep, as it “rejuvenates by providing an opportunity for the metabolism, body and brain to slow down and recover…it’s crucial that it’s not missed.”
Long-term sleep deprivation also increases the risk of developing a sleep-disorder, such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep paralysis.
The way I see it, this issue can be handled in one of two ways; either we get it together, put a bit of extra effort into our sleep hygiene and daily routines, and start taking care of our mental health. Or – and I know that this isn’t what students want to hear – we can keep staying up late and waking up early for extended periods of time, eventually running the risk of permanently damaging our internal clocks and compromising our long-term memories.
The choice is yours, but either way, it’s a good idea to evaluate your sleeping patterns and decide if this is the way you want to spend your teenage years.
As for me? I’ll probably be sleeping.