No Snooze? You Lose

Early start times, heavy class loads and extracurriculars attribute to teen sleep epidemic.

Olivia Masterson, Reporter

3 a.m. Everyone else in the house is fast asleep dreaming of faraway lands. The distinct clicking of a keyboard can be heard down the hall. Someone is still awake. An exhausted teen sits awake at their desk. Folders are strewn about with no clear order and sticky notes filled with reminders on every open surface. They’re hunched over their computer, hurriedly completing an English essay so they can move onto the unfinished science project that’ll take them the rest of the night to finish if they’re lucky.

The hours tick by. 4 o’clock. 5 o’clock. 6 o’clock. As the night fades into the day the teen looks up only to discover that for the third time in as many weeks, they’ll have to make it through the day with no sleep.
A growing problem and epidemic for teens is lack of sleep. Over the past 20 years, the amount of sleep teenagers receive has declined. Research done by the National Sleep Foundation shows that only 15% of teenagers get the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep on a school night. It is a concerning change that over the years has only gotten worse.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, a person spends about one-third of their life sleeping. It’s possible to view sleeping as unproductive in the grand scheme of things and although this assumption makes sense based on what sleeping looks like on the outside, it is false overall.

Olivia Masterson
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While sleeping, the brain does all sorts of things that contribute toward an overall happy and productive two-thirds of your life. In deep sleep (N3), the body releases hormones, repairs muscle tissue, restores energy and more. During sleep, the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness, are regulated and the growth hormone is released. According to Doctor Allison Arthur, a doctor at Texas Children’s Pediatrics, the brain also organizes and stores information while you sleep. All of the things that our body does while we sleep contributes to a happier, fuller life while we’re awake.

When teenagers go through puberty a shift in their biological clocks occurs. Dr. Arthur said that teens wind down around 11 p.m. and don’t wake up until later in the morning. Younger children release melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, earlier in the evening and stop the hormone earlier in the morning. Teenagers on the other hand, release melatonin later than younger children do. With the early start times of most high schools, the natural biological clock can become an issue.

From homework to technology to over-scheduling, many things keeping teens from getting the recommended amount of sleep. Homework is time-consuming enough on its own, but with additional after-school activities like sports, clubs or volunteering, the window for sleep progressively reduces.

Something else that prevents teens from sleeping is technology. Both the light emitted from the screens called “blue light,” and the amount of time they spend on it affects their sleep. When blue light hits the receptors in the eyes it sends a signal to the brain to suppress the production of melatonin which prevents teens from becoming sleepy.

For junior Ashleigh Stoutner, the combination of both work and homework can make it hard to get enough sleep.

“On days when I work after school, I get home, get ready for work, go to work, get home, eat dinner, do my homework and then take a shower and go to bed. Usually, I spend one to two hours doing homework. Sometimes more, sometimes less,” Stoutner said. “Normally I get to sleep around 11 or 12 and wake up at 5:30.”

CFISD high schools start at 7:20 a.m. Studies prove that teenagers are fully awake and functional around 9:00 am. This means that when teens have to get up and go to school, their brains are still telling them it’s the middle of the night. This can negatively impact teens performance in school and their basic health. On the other hand, one can argue that the early start times allow teens to have more time for extracurricular activities or even lets them get home before their younger siblings to babysit if they have working parents.

In April, an advocacy group known as Start School Later Texas introduced House Bill 1062 to the House Education Committee to prohibit schools from beginning school earlier than 8 a.m. Similar bills advocating for later school start times were introduced to eight states. The bill was left pending in committee.

Poor sleeping habits can affect performance in school. Without enough sleep, staying focused can be difficult leading to distracted students. Lack of sleep can also affect memory, causing forgetfulness about important things like names, homework assignments, and test dates. Forgetting these things may not just be bad memory.

During the school year, junior Ian Clark is loaded with homework, orchestra, work, and participating in clubs. With some added insomnia, sleeping can be difficult for him and so can functioning without it.

“Whenever I don’t get enough sleep, I usually end up falling asleep in the middle of the day like at school or at work by accident,” Clark said. “Then I wake back up so it’s kind of this vicious cycle of falling asleep and then waking up.”

There are so many other effects that lack of sleep has on your life. Lack of sleep has even been proven to lead to health problems such as obesity or behavioral issues that can cause substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and reckless driving. Without sleep, emotions can also become out of control. According to Dr. Arthur, irritability, anxiety, and depression become more frequent as stress levels skyrockets.

Junior Kristine Nguyen takes four AP classes along with participating in numerous after-school activities. She spends countless hours on homework each night which means she doesn’t normally get to bed until 1:30 or 2 a.m.

“My parents are worried about it,” Kristine said, “They tell me I need to go to bed really early and stuff like that. I know a lot of parents are worried about this too.”

The best way to improve a deteriorating sleep schedule is to make sleep a priority. There’s a whole array of ways that you can do this. One way is teaching the body signals for when it’s time for bed. This can include a shower, reading a few chapters of a book, etc. Professionals recommend a sleep schedule to establish a routine. Stick to this schedule even on weekends. Finally, keep electronic usage to a minimum during the hour before going to bed.

Freshman Ashtyn Haggard said her bed time can range from 9 p.m. to midnight depending on after-school activities and homework. She said days when she is able to go to bed earlier are less stressful. She believes a later school start time would be beneficial for her.

“If I don’t have enough sleep, then I don’t feel like doing anything throughout the day. Then I get behind on deadlines and homework and stuff like that. And that’s not good,” she said. “I, for one, would not suggest decreasing homework [to achieve more sleep]; I would suggest actually starting school later if that could happen. Maybe even starting at 8:15, that could help. That would give students a whole extra hour of sleep.”