Do yourself a favor: get some sleep

Do+yourself+a+favor%3A+get+some+sleep

Cienna Beard, Opinion Editor

There is one phrase that I hear on an almost daily basis at school: I’m so tired. This has become a universal complaint for high school students, who are faced with the mounting obligations of modern school life. In the four-ish years I have been in high school, I have seen this constant presence of exhaustion everywhere, from the brief but poignant conversations with friends when walking to class to the not-so-subtle kid in the back of the classroom dozing off. The conversation surrounding sleep deprivation in students often gets buried beneath more immediate, and seemingly  more important concerns. Students are tired all the time, but is that really how it should be? 

The lifestyle of most high school students is one that makes sleep deprivation inevitable. The combination of academic work, sports teams, and even the early start time of school, among other time-occupying activities results in students sacrificing their sleep to fulfill such a long list of obligations. Of course, the typical human modern lifestyle also plays a role, with technology being one of the principal inhibitors of proper sleep. Daily screen time has increased even more during the pandemic, as schools had to shift to virtual learning from home, forcing students to sit in front of a screen for hours. Given all of these factors, it seems inevitable that students living in such environments would struggle with achieving that golden eight-hour (or more) sleep each night.

While most people would agree that the modern “situation” certainly exacerbates and even causes sleep deprivation in students, its negative and potentially detrimental effects to the adolescent psyche appear more easily disregarded. It seems so obvious that lack of sleep results in irritability, drowsiness, and an inability to focus, among other things, yet most students ignore these warning signs to keep up with the rush of their daily lives, relying on a kick of caffeine to just help them survive the day. Such coping mechanisms may be temporarily effective, but, when sleep deprivation becomes chronic, it poses a real danger to students’ health. For example,  a study that was conducted at George Mason University with about 28,000 high school students showed how even one less hour of sleep on school nights was associated with more feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and increased substance abuse. Indeed, the effects of sleep deprivation are not just physiological; they are also psychological. It becomes a deadly cycle; loss of sleep results in fatigue, which in turn makes it difficult to cope with daily life stressors – like school – which can worsen overall mental health and lower self-esteem, thus culminating in disorders like anxiety and depression. 

It is certainly disheartening to think that today’s students must choose to prioritize success and performance over their own physical and mental health, especially since adequate sleep is so crucial to teenage development and maturation. As someone who, like many other students, began struggling with poor sleep in high school, I’ve had to make the tough decision many nights between finishing that last assignment or saving myself a sorely needed hour of sleep. It is rare that sleep wins. But, all hope is not lost just yet; there are plenty of small changes that, when done consistently, can make a huge positive difference in sleep quantity and quality. Swearing off electronics one hour before going to sleep, setting a consistent time to sleep each night, and getting regular exercise are just a few ideas. At the end of the day, there isn’t once perfect method to treat sleep deprivation; for some it’s listening to music, for others it’s remembering to turn off their phone. The point is to find what works for you personally, as a busy, stressed student who could use a couple of nice, long vacations. As much as modern life may want us to believe, getting enough sleep should not be an afterthought to a hectic day; it should be an opportunity to take care of ourselves, our bodies, and our minds.

Cover photo credit: Mind.org.uk

Sources:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25178930/

https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/sleep-deprived-teens/

https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#Central-nervous-system