Alarm Goes Off On Teen Sleep

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This month’s Mirada survey on the sleeping patterns of 94 juniors and seniors is just a small part of the overwhelming statistical and scientific evidence that teens don’t get enough sleep, which affects their moods, attitudes, and performance.

A sleep expert from Cornell University was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “Every single high school student I have ever measured in terms of their alertness is a walking zombie.”

What is needed is action.

Something must be done.

There is no single cause of this problem.

Schools, teachers, athletic teams, parents, and especially teens themselves have to take responsibility because they are all, at least partially, at fault.

It is necessary to remember that students shouldn’t settle for less when it comes to their achievements and getting life started on the right foot.

But it is also necessary to remember that there shouldn’t be a conflict between settling for less and doing what a young, developing body needs to do to stay healthy.

Firstly, the school community should once more consider making it possible for students to start their school day later.

In the past, two main objections to such a policy have been raised.

The first is that starting the school day later, say 30 minutes later, would only cause students to go to sleep 30 minutes later and that there would be no net gain of sleep.

However our current bell schedule doesn’t consider the fact that going to sleep and waking up later is part of a teenager’s biology.

In the teenage brain the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleepiness, takes place between 11 o’clock at night and 8 o’clock in the morning.

Therefore, especially for students who live in Gold River, having a school start time of 7:50 in the morning interferes with the body’s natural rhythms.

The second objection is that starting the school day later would cause sporting events to have to be pushed later, which would result in more sports practices and games taking place after sundown.

While it need not be mentioned that the convenience of some coaches should not be on the same level of concern to the school as academic success and physical health, surely some compromise can be made.

Perhaps athletes can choose to start school at an earlier time, kind of like a zero period.

Secondly, students themselves have to understand that how much they sleep is their choice.

Are there pressures put on students by the school, parents, sports teams, and the College Board?

Of course there are.

Nevertheless, people who can already drive, who are a couple of years away from becoming an adult, or who are already adults, who maintain jobs and organize their schedules, can surely take enough responsibility for their own lives to stay healthy.

Do you need three sports or can you settle for two or one?

Do you need five AP classes this semester or can you settle for four or three? Do you need a job this early?

Of course it’s great that so many teenagers are involved and are trying to succeed.

The world of adulthood is certainly harder than high school and learning different skills and subjects to the best of one’s ability is good.

But how much does one need to push themselves before they feel secure in their intelligence or their worthiness or their athleticism?

Why continue to lose sleep in order to perform better academically when doctors say again and again that it decreases performance?

Maybe being excellent in two or three fields is better than taking on the weight of an Atlas and striving to be excellent in everything.

Taking responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back on advanced classes or extracurriculars.

It could just be a matter of budgeting time properly.

Do you really need to check Facebook another time before going to bed?

Can you wait until tomorrow afternoon to watch that TV show?

Unmistakably, this is a public health issue.

Teenagers who sleep less than the recommended 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours per night are more likely to get sick (due to a weakened immune system), to have seriously considered committing suicide, to smoke cigarettes, to use marijuana, and to engage in sexual activity.

Sleep debt interferes with memory and concentration and hurts academic performance.

There is a great deal of anxiety and angst felt not only by teenagers, but by their parents and the community.

How can one become a ‘have’ in a society that is increasingly shifting ‘haves’ into ‘have-nots’?

How can the next generation, with a sluggish economy and a society filled with so many pessimistic and even downright apocalyptic visions of the future, maintain or raise the standard of living set by their parents and grandparents?

These concerns, on a personal level, aren’t illegitimate.

It’s good to have individual initiative, drive and to want to succeed.

However, imagine the success teenagers could achieve and the heights they could reach if they were healthier.

Imagine how well a well rested, healthier, more optimistic teen would perform on an entrance exam or how they would excel in a particular field of accomplishment.

Imagine how well a teenager could do if their parents and schools gave that student adequate conditions so that they could be successful to the best of their ability.

Today, it can only be imagined.

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