Sleep deprivation in teenagers plagues high schools, and parents and schools can help by supporting their mental health, gently enforcing healthy work habits at home, and lightening or coordinating the workload at school through regulations and better communication.
“What happens when teens feel sleep deprived?
Lack of energy leads to less effort put into tasks in teens’ everyday lives. They end up having less to give to the world they want to participate in. Of Oxford students who filled out Panah’s survey, 85.3% said they lacked energy after not sleeping enough the night before, and 67.6% said they experienced slowed thinking (Panah).
Lacking the capability to pay attention in class or retain information leads to high schoolers struggling in classes. Mental health issues may arise from this struggle, as teens may lose motivation and belief in their abilities. Of those participating, 64.7% said they had a reduced attention span, and 52.9% said they had a worsened memory (Panah).
Some observers may wonder why concern surrounds the issue of teenagers experiencing sleep deprivation.
Teens will run the world. They will run the companies, make discoveries, and advance humanity. Their health should gravely concern teens and those around them.
A prolonged lack of sleep, linked directly with brain health, can have severe consequences. In their younger years, humans encounter a critical developmental period where their brains undergo momentous changes, transforming their memory and emotion systems. As the teen sleeps, the body makes most of these changes. Not getting enough sleep blocks these changes, hindering development.
A lack of cell maturity in the brain, a result of early sleep deprivation, can result in poor cognition and behavioral problems. Eva Telzer states, “chronic or frequent sleep problems may have accumulating effects, impairing neuronal integrity, decreasing neurogenesis, and altering structural plasticity over time.”
At a much higher risk of neurological diseases in the later years of life, people who did not get enough as an adolescent must endure the consequences. It may seem like the consequences of sleep deprivation, either too temporary or too delayed, do not need to be considered. However, not getting the recommended amount of sleep for one’s age group (generally around 8 hours for adolescents and children) can directly cause poor quality of life and a general decrease in happiness and behavior.
An alarmingly high number of teens chronically feel sleep deprived in high school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 31.2% of adolescents 13 to 17 years of age experienced short sleep duration. (Wheaton). 94.3% of Oxford students who completed Panah’s survey reported experiencing sleep deprivation (Panah). Oxford Academy students value their education so much that 95% of teens sacrifice necessary sleep.
Teens, on a constant search for autonomy in their daily lives, do not maintain a regular bedtime, forcing their circadian rhythm to work against them. Specifically, only 23.8% of adolescents 13 to 17 had a regular bedtime (Wheaton). Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule allows for an easier time falling asleep, better sleep quality, and, usually, more sleep. Many teenagers lack the skills needed to balance their workload and time, forced to pull hours from their sleep to get their work done and spare time for themselves. For instance, a student taking a heavy workload who enjoys playing video games with friends must choose between not getting enough sleep and not having time with friends.
One should watch out for sleep deprivation in people around them. Parents should watch out for telltale signs of sleep deprivation in their teens to assist them. Easily recognizable, parents should stay vigilant in case any symptoms pop up when they spend time with their teens. Some common symptoms include “having trouble waking up most mornings, irritability and mood swings, and falling asleep easily during the day” (Newport). Sometimes a drop in academic performance and letter grades may not be because the student did not know the content; sleep deprivation makes it much harder for students to perform well academically, as their lack of sleep constantly suppresses their cognition.
High schools have many ways to help their students. Schools play a significant role in sleep deprivation in high school students. 100% of Oxford students who filled out Panah’s survey said they experienced sleep deprivation due to their homework load. As education gets increasingly competitive in the United States and worldwide, the workload shoved onto students from their schools gets heavier and heavier. Students, often indoctrinated into believing they will not get far in life without overloading themselves with advanced placement classes and extracurriculars, generally participated in to impress selective colleges, believe this is the only path to success. This increase in time commitment and internet addiction leads many students to pay the price for their sleep. Teens end up trading their sleep schedules for their education, making it more challenging to perform academically. Again, far too typical, this cycle destroys the teenager’s being.
Students suggest what schools should do to help their largely sleep deprived students. Shockingly, no officials have implemented standards in the American education system yet. Especially in more competitive schools, such as Oxford Academy, where people value education over most other things by a majority of the student body, it seems necessary to prepare for every class ahead of time. Having tests and essays sprung on a student only increases their stress levels and harms them further in the long run, as their sub-par grades may affect their mental health and home life.
One student suggests that “schools mandate leniency policies with homework so that it is not prioritized over sleep” (Panah). Since researchers proved how detrimental the homework load from schools feels for high schoolers, one would think that late work policies would offer standard leniency. Individual teachers set these policies and may choose never to accept late work. Not only do classes become unaccommodating for students suffering from external issues, but students may also resent the unjust strict policies. While this results in students refusing to ask for help, it also often leads to a lack of motivation to work hard. A mandate in homework leniency policies in public schools would allow students to get more sleep, boosting their health and helping them maintain a positive outlook on the life they lead.
Teenagers, in a phase of imperative development, as they yearn for enough sleep, which they need to develop their brain and maintain a high quality of life, should try their best to sleep well unless they do not mind constantly hurting themselves. Teens can do so by setting a bedtime routine and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, exercising more, or turning off electronic distractions before bedtime. Schools should implement new systems that mandate the workload given to students, as they cannot handle the pressure well most of the time. For instance, they could mandate open schedules and leniency policies to reduce sudden, subliminal stress. Parents need to help advocate for the well-being of their children and not let the epidemic of sleep deprivation plague students anymore! An open mind and a gentle guiding hand can save a teen’s physical and mental health, both in the future and present.
Lewis, Lisa L. The Sleep-Deprived Teen. Mango Publishing Group, 2022.
Panah, Omid. “Sleep Deprivation Survey.” Google Forms, Google, 3 Dec. 2022, forms.gle/954 qg5EgfNQjSemw7. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022
Richter, Ruthann. “Among Teens, Sleep Deprivation Is an Epidemic.” Stanford Medicine, 8 Oct. 2015, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/10/among-teens-sleep-deprivation-an-epidemic.html. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022
“Sleep Deprivation in Teens.” Newport Academy, 7 Jan. 2022, www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/sleep-deprived-teens. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.
Telzer, Eva H, et al.
“Sleep Variability in Adolescence Is Associated with Altered Brain Development.” Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Elsevier, 28 May 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929315000547.
Wheaton, Anne G, and Angelika H Claussen.
“Short Sleep Duration Among Infants, Children, and Adolescents Aged 4 Months–17 Years — United States, 2016–2018.” CDC, 24 Sept. 2021, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/pdfs/mm7038a1-H.pdf. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.
OMID PANAH is a contributing writer to Kiddish magazine.