Is Sleep Really That Important?

By  Layton Funk

Published on  July 9, 2019

Sleep cat

How Much Sleep Could a Teenager Possibly Need?

You might think that adolescents might not need that much sleep compared to adults or to children, but you would be wrong. True, from birth to prepubescence a child needs less and less sleep (around 15 hours at one year old and around 10-11 hours at twelve years old), but a teenager still needs a significant amount, clocking in at least 9 ½ hours per day. This sounds absurd; how could this be possible? Teenagers are known for staying up late and getting up early, after all. That is for two reasons: 1. High School requires students to wake up early in the morning. 2. Puberty and the hormones involved causes a time shift in teenagers’ bodies, moving their internal clocks (circadian rhythm) forward by about 1-2 hours. Children typically get tired around 9 or 10 o’clock, but when puberty hits, they get tired later at night around 11 o’clock or midnight. On top of all this are a myriad of factors that keep teenagers awake even longer, shortening sleep, which results in many unfortunate consequences that may affect their behavior, cognitive ability, and academic performance.

Why Sleep Deprivation Happens

Teenagers are very, very busy people. A lot of adults take it for granted, but going to school for around 7 hours per day and then going home to do even more schoolwork for each class is just as much of a time sink, if not more so, than a full-time job! Each teacher in each class will assign homework, often disregarding the homework other teachers give, piling the schoolwork on over and over. In addition, some teenagers get a part-time job or have extracurricular activities and try to have social lives, meaning their days are jam-packed leaving hardly any real estate for sleep in their schedule. Sleep isn’t seen as the most important thing in the world and most want to fit as many things in their day as they can, so they sacrifice sleep to accomplish other tasks. That probably sounds familiar to anyone reading this and as tempting as it is, it should not happen and definitely should not be encouraged. Unfortunately, their internal clocks encourage going to bed later once puberty hits, but they also encourage waking up later, which is nigh impossible because of school.  Waking up early for school and going to bed late after a long day of learning, working, and interacting is not a healthy lifestyle.

What Sleep Deprivation Causes

A lack of sleep, even a small amount lost, can be extremely detrimental to anyone’s mental and bodily functions, especially someone who is still growing. Besides the body not having time to rest and causing aches, pains, and lethargy, not getting enough sleep can cause a shift in mood, causing crankiness, irritability, frustration, and even aggression. These moods combine with a lessened cognitive ability resulting in problems with (very school-related) attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity. This comes with a weakened ability to make rational decisions, leading to high-risk behaviors like drinking, fast (or drowsy) driving, and procrastination.  The dangerous activities aside, procrastination can affect performance in school heavily with unfinished assignments, studying, and pushing sleep back even further to try and finish those projects. It is a vicious cycle that must be recognized and broken as soon as possible or there could be long-term consequences. These consequences could range from lasting lethargy, extreme weight loss/gain, and even neuro-developmental issues.

How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

Besides somehow changing how schools function and schedule their days, there happen to be a good number of ways to get more sleep every week and every day. One easy thing to do is to sleep in on weekends, which most people probably do anyway. However, resting too much will push scheduling back that day and so on until the school week comes – then there will be trouble. Scheduling homework to get it done as soon as possible is an extremely effective way to prevent homework from piling up and giving future you a hard time.  Similarly, scheduling after school commitments like sporting  events, friend gatherings, and tutoring to be early while still permitting ample time for homework and dinner before a reasonable bedtime is also important. Taking a nap to replenish energy is another great strategy as after school and lunch, the body is tired and needs some rest. Fighting past that tires the body and mind out even more, which sounds like it would be ideal for going to bed early, but many will continue with their day anyway and still go to bed late, almost too tired to fall asleep. Possibly the most important tip in this day and age is to avoid screens like phones, televisions, or computers before bed. The reason for this is that the blue light that comes from those screens is very stimulating to the brain. The brighter things are, the more stimulated the brain gets. Having soft, warm colored lights can help calm the brain down. There are multiple settings on computers and phones that accommodate this exact thing. Following a routine, cutting down an abundance of activity and stimuli, and keeping an eye on how the body and mind feel are all paramount to getting a good night’s rest, which will improve not only school performance, but life in general.

Research and Resources

If you would like to read more about sleep deprivation and its effects, we have provided some links to relevant and peer-reviewed studies and research (from the National Center for Biotechnology Information) as well as some general articles regarding tips for getting to bed at a reasonable time.

Research

NCBI – Sleep in adolescence: physiology, cognition and mental health

NCBI – The Effect of One Night’s Sleep Deprivation on Adolescent Neurobehavioral Performance

NCBI – Sleep habits, academic performance, and the adolescent brain structure

NCBI – Adolescent Sleep and the Impact of Technology Use Before Sleep on Daytime Function

Articles

Sleep Foundation – Teens and Sleep

NCBI – Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough

NHS – Sleep tips for teenagers

 

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