Sleepless University High students roam the school hallways mindlessly like zombies on “The Walking Dead.” In a survey of 85 Uni students, 76 percent of students did not get the suggested 8 to 10 hours of sleep on the average school night, whether it is staying up to finish homework, studying for a crucial test or late night talk.
“Many students are half or fully asleep during their first period,” says senior Arielle Huitrón. Students are expected to be present by 8 a.m. for the daily Breakfast in Classroom, forcing many students to have to wake up as early as 5:30 a.m. Huitrón continued, “School should start at a later time so that students can be more productive in the morning.”
Several schools across the United States are working to synchronize school clocks with students’ body clocks, so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential.
In an article published by the New York Times, Dr. Judith A. Owen says, “The level of impairment associated with sleep-deprived driving is equivalent to driving drunk.” Sleep deprivation can also have a negative effect on mood. Inadequate sleep raises the risk of depression, and sleeping less than 8 hours a night has been linked to a nearly threefold increased risk of suicide attempts, after other potential causes are accounted for.
High school students who get too little sleep face health risks that can carry on throughout the rest of their life. These health risks can include high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, involvement in risk taking activities and suicide ideation.
Two in three teens were found to be severely sleep-deprived, losing two or more hours of sleep every night, according to a policy statement issued in August by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The causes can be biological, behavioral or environmental. And the effect on the well-being of adolescents — on their health and academic potential — can be profound.
“Sleep is a rarity. There is always something that needs to be done for one class or another, and as the assignments pile on, the hours of sleep we could get scuttle away,” says junior Clara Vamvulescu.
Students face increased pressure to gain admission to the right colleges. Due to the demands of increasingly competitive colleges and universities, the average high school GPA has increased dramatically over the years, according to U.S. News and World Report in 2011.
College applications, essays, AP classes, standardized tests, and extracurricular requirements have placed such exorbitant pressure on students that the time for sleep has subsequently disappeared. The competition rages on to see who will exceed their peers.
Adding to the adolescent shift in circadian rhythm are a multitude of electronic distractions that cut further into sleep time, such as smartphones, iPods, computers and televisions. A stream of text messages, tweets and postings on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat keep many awake long into the night. Students constantly check their social media as a way to escape from the realities and stresses of their lives. However, the light from a screen can suppress melatonin, the hormone in the brain that signals sleep, furthering the problem.
In addition, some students experience a phenomenon known as FOMO: the fear of missing out. These teenagers are incapable of putting down their electronic devices in fear that they will miss out on important conversations.
“I don’t think it is an issue of missing out. However, social media does distract students from completing homework resulting in extended hours of completing assignments,” said junior Matthew Chen.
“Sleep is not optional. It’s a health imperative, like eating, breathing and physical activity,” said Dr. Owens.