If there is one constant throughout humanity, it is this: everyone needs to sleep.
Tucking into bed at night and calling it a day is one of the most beneficial things in seemingly all aspects of human function. Getting the correct amount of sleep improves awareness, cognitive ability, mental acuity, and overall state of being,regardless of age.
However, most teenagers struggle to get the recommended 9 hours of sleep each school night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of teens report getting a full night’s sleep. The effects of this lack of sleep can be detrimentalfor students especially– without a good night’s sleep, grades suffer, attention wanes, and learning is impeded.
“I try to get 9.25 [hours]… Most nights I get 8.5 – 9 hours,” sophomore Moira McCarthy said.
“I always try to stop my homework at night, or try to stop working at 9. If there’s stress, that will affect it more than time,” sophomore Moira McCarthy said.
She attributes her restfulness to her routine: “I shower right after I get home from sports, and then I can do homework at dinner. After dinner I do homework. Usually I try and do it the night it’s assigned, so if I don’t finish it it’s okay.”
Most people have an internal clock — something scientists call one’s Circadian rhythm. This rhythm is ultimately responsible for sending the message from the brain that tells the body when it’s time to go to sleep. During puberty, this rhythm is shifted back, causing adolescents go to sleep later and wake up later. This holds true for the overwhelming majority of teens.
Although some schools have tried to fight this natural rhythm by opening and ending early, other schools show more success in adjusting their schedules to align with students’ Circadian rhythms. St. Paul Public Schools are examining start times right now, and at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, the Wednesday late start gives students a sampling of a suggested start time. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends schools start no earlier than 8:30, keeping with their recommendation of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep for teenagers.
According to studies led by Kyla Wahlstrom, Director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, the change improved attendance, decreased tardiness, and left kids more alert, better prepared and even less depressed and less likely to visit the school nurse.
Sophomore Lea Moore is skeptical that a later start would have benefits at SPA: “My primary concern would be after-school activities,” she said. “If school started later it would have to end earlier. For basketball we didn’t start until 6:30, which is really really late. If we had a later start it would push that back more.”
Late start or not, the recommended amount of sleep is something senior Sonja Mischke rarely gets. “I don’t think [it’s] ever going to happen,” she said. “It’s a combination of homework and activities…. and also not wanting to work every second of my life. Sometimes I will read a book for fun and then it gets really late. Most times it’s just a lot of work to do. Especially with college applications and stuff.”
Drowsiness or tiredness can also be deadly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 60% of American drivers have reported drowsiness behind the wheel, and over 35% reported falling asleep while driving. A study published in Nature showed that staying awake for 18 hours produced an impairment roughly equivalent to a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration. 204 hours produced a 0.1% BAC. This figure is higher than the legal limit for drunk driving, which is 0.08% BAC. If this is true, then sleeping can actually prevent loss of life – something students could combat by getting to bed earlier.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many ways to get a good night’s sleep. The most important one is to stick to a constant sleep schedule: “Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night,” the clinic writes in a blog post.
Stress can also impact sleep, something that freshman Rahul Dev can attest to. “It usually depends on the night. There are some nights [homework] definitely affects my sleep. If I don’t have it done, then there are nights where I don’t sleep as well,” he said.
Although SPA students reporting double the average for teens getting recommended sleep, this 31% is a paltry figure in the face of the drawbacks that can result from a lack of sleep. With this in mind, students need to tuck in sooner and dream of the benefits that result from a good night’s sleep.
This article was originally published in the November 2014 Print issue of The Rubicon. The story can be seen in its original form by clicking on the “In Print” tab or at ISSUU.com.