Credit to Phoebe Primeau

High Schoolers Continue the Trend of Sleep Deprivation in American Culture, Facing More Consequences as More Students Succumb to Sleep Deprivation

The Economics of Time

Published: February 21, 2019

It becomes a cycle. Wake up to the third alarm. Rush out of bed and get ready for school in 20 minutes. Pry eyes open during classes to stay awake. Go to basketball practice. Shower. Strangle with homework for a few hours. Check phone. Sleep the length of a long nap. Wake up and repeat. The cycle continues.

Like many other high school teenagers, senior Payton Stephenson struggles through the day, unable to escape sleep deprivation. The very sleep deprivation that is spreading like an epidemic among high school teenagers, leaving negative impacts, both directly and indirectly.

“I’d say I have a hard time remembering things and focusing on things, which I mean that could attribute to a lot of things, but I think lacking sleep definitely has a big toll on that,” Stephenson said. “It’s just really hard to learn new information when I’m that tired because I either can’t stay awake trying to learn it or I’m just not really absorbing it.”

Being unable to focus is only one of many issues. As the pace of society increases, pressures on teens to do more continues and smartphones become more prominent, and more teenagers stay up to clock in more hours at work, complete schoolwork or scroll through social media. This causes sleep too often becomes less and less of a priority.

“Part of it is just this idea that we don’t understand basic economics, and I’m not talking money here,” AP Psychology teacher Sean Fowler said. “I’m just talking about basic when you choose one thing you’re foregoing something else, so one of the most important economic resources we have is time.”

For many students, this time is not filled with sleep, but with other activities, schoolwork, family responsibilities or jobs. Instead of attaining the eight to 10 hours of sleep required for proper functioning of teenagers, many students find themselves getting less and less sleep.

“A lot of teens and myself get into more stuff than they really can, like I did,” junior Isaac Kelly said. “Then, a lot of them don’t realize like how important sleep is ­—until it’s gone.”

With only three out of 10 high school students getting enough sleep on school nights, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, many students face the repercussions of sleep deprivation, both short term and long term. While students may immediately feel less focused, less motivated or less efficient as they receive less sleep, they may also struggle more with anxiety and depression, and their immune responses will decrease.

“Sleep is very important to the optimal functioning of the body, which is clearly evident because we have one third of the time dedicated in a day to our sleep,” Pradeep Bollu, Associate Director of Sleep Disorders at the University of Missouri Columbia, said. “That tells you how important sleep is. This is a problem in the last century, so in the span of hundred years, we are trying to change the natural order of things, and that will not fly probably. That will not work and will always result in deleterious consequences, so give the sleep the brain deserves. There is no workaround if you’re sleep deprived. One day, that’s okay. But don’t chronically sleep deprive yourself or you’re just setting up for a suboptimal outcome, and that is not efficient.”

If students continue to try to workaround getting enough sleep, more than the short-term decreased cognitive function and irritability will be evident. Later, the effects of their sleep deprivation could lead to decreased intelligence test scores, increased psychological problems, increased risk of diseases and lower life satisfaction.

“The most important thing is that even if you feel like you’re putting more hours by depriving yourself of sleep, your efficiency is going to be lower during those hours that you’re staying up,” Bollu said. “Unless you give the brain the this the rest it deserves, it is not going to be optimal. So if you want to be successful, well, clean your brain properly, clean your brain with respect. Give it the sleep that it needs and deserves. Unless you do that, no matter what you do, your effort is going to be not resulting in the most fruitful outcome unless you would have had you given your brain the sleep it deserves.”

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