Looking for the Magic Number: Sleep Deprivation in Teens

By: Megan Ford
Sleep deprivation is not uncommon among teens. Walking through the halls it’s easy to tell which students are happy to be here and which ones just need to go home and take a nap.
Senior Ben Ogedegbe believes that teens should be getting about 8-9 hours of sleep a night. But, according to the National Sleep Foundation, there is no “magic number” of hours that you should sleep. Sleep needs are individual and can vary depending on age, gender, and even your genes. Researchers have recently begun to study the concept of basal sleep need, as well as sleep debt. Basal sleep need is “the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance,” while sleep debt is “the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors, or other causes.” The interaction between basal sleep need and sleep debt is where there are many discrepancies about how much sleep you should be getting.
Regardless of how much sleep you should be getting, lack of sleep can cause a problem over time. In the short term, lack of sleep can hinder your ability to remember or consolidate information, as well as reduce your productivity. Over a long period of time, sleep deprivation has more severe effects; it can cause serious health issues and jeopardize your safety, causing deprecating consequences.
Many teens experience short-term consequences rather than long ones. Especially in school, the ability to remember and consolidate information is key to being successful. Sports and AP classes can play a large role in students’ lack of sleep.

Ogedegbe states that “[sports] don’t affect the time I have for homework and studying, but they do affect the amount of sleep I get.” Another senior, Kylie Ritz, is experiencing the same thing. With 5 AP classes, cross country, and piano practices, Kylie said that she spends about 3 hours on homework each night. When asked about how sports and college applications affect the amount of time she can spend on homework and studying, Kylie said, “They affect it in a big way; I have so little time to do anything.”

The amount of time you sleep is not the only factor that plays a role in your mood when you wake up. Each night when you fall asleep, you go through four stages of sleep. Each stage can last anywhere from five to fifteen minutes, and once you’ve progressed through each stage, the process begins again. Once you’re asleep for about an hour and a half, you will enter REM sleep, also known as Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep. The cycle will continue through all the stages of sleep, and each time REM sleep is reached, it will last longer than the time before. The most key part of REM sleep occurs in the morning, though, when you’re about to get out of bed. If your alarm clock happens to go off when you’re in Stage 1 sleep, you may wake up feeling tired as if you hadn’t slept at all. On the other hand, if your alarm clock goes off while you’re in REM sleep, you will wake up feeling more rested and ready for the day. This is because while in REM sleep, your body and brain are closer to “being awake” than they are when you’re in any other stage of sleep.
There are many ways to fix your sleep schedule. Time management is a huge factor. Many teens are known to be procrastinators, waiting until the last second to do a project or homework assignment. If you’re given a weekend or a few days to work on homework, take advantage of it. Don’t put it off until the last minute. Then, set a specific time window in which you will plan to go to bed every night. Especially if you play sports or volunteer, this can be a huge help in getting the amount of sleep your body needs. Keep your room quiet and dark once your set sleep time comes around. Leave the book on the nightstand and the TV off, and let yourself fall asleep; your body needs it. Even on weekends, try to keep to your sleep schedule, as one can only be truly set over a long period of time. Make sure you’re not eating or exercising within about 3 hours of the time you expect to fall asleep, as these activities will wake up your body rather than putting it to sleep. Try to keep to calm, quiet activities, and you’ll find that you have a much easier time getting to sleep, staying asleep, and you’ll feel better when you wake up too.