Overworked Teens Underestimate Sleep’s Value

Brooke Woodward

Teenagers nowadays are burdened with much more than just heavy backpacks. Jam-packed schedules, hours of homework, and heightened academic, social, and extracurricular expectations leave high school students nationwide increasingly overstressed and overtired. Needless to say, not many teenagers get the bare minimum eight hours of sleep every night that their bodies need to stay healthy and handle biological adolescent changes.
The widespread lack of sleep among today’s teens is fueled by the skyrocketing pressures of high school coupled with the natural inclination to go to bed later. Students cheat themselves of sleep in order to finish everything they need and want to do.
One Miramonte junior said that she is staying up progressively later to finish homework or maybe just to read something for fun, but she “still has to wake up just as early the next morning and start the whole cycle over again.”
The pressure that society places on teenagers to succeed is not completely responsible for teenage sleep deprivation, so we do have to take some of the blame ourselves. Procrastination sucks away time that could be spent sleeping, and the temptations of technology lure in all of us. If no one had Facebook or texting we would all probably get to bed a lot earlier. We must learn to prioritize if, for example, our favorite television show is airing the night before a research paper is due.
With colleges becoming more selective due to both economic constraints and a growing pool of qualified applicants, teenagers must sculpt the perfect resume to distinguish themselves from other students locally and nationally. Much of today’s youth has taken the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality to a new level where sleep is getting pushed aside. If the girl next to you in your AP Chemistry class is interning at a prestigious law firm four days a week after school, you must find a way to surpass her accomplishments and claim the acceptance letter to Princeton, no matter how many all-nighters you have to pull.
This is not to say that only the Ivy-bound students are overworked and overtired. These days, high school students of ranging academic levels struggle to balance their homework loads and extracurricular activities with the time they need to just be a teenager. Realistically, we cannot go non-stop from dawn to dusk; we need some time to unwind. It is unlikely that anyone can make it to bed by 9:45 p.m. and also complete their hours of homework, participate in their after school activities, and still manage to have time for a little relaxation.
Many people are convinced that staying up late is worth it “just to get everything done.” However, most of the things we feel we must accomplish in our waking hours are not worth the sleep we lose. Less sleep leads to diminished brainpower and productivity, increased irritability, higher susceptibility to stress and illness, and more cravings for stimulants such as caffeine and chocolate. Absences from school cause additional stress because teens who miss key lectures and exams must work even harder to catch up.
Sleep deprivation can also be fatal. According to a study from the National Institute of Health’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, about 55% of all car crashes in which drivers fell asleep at the wheel involve people under age 26.
Yet, even if we try to go to bed sooner, we are often so stressed out that we are “too tired” to even fall asleep. With their minds racing a mile per minute about everything they should have done or need to do, many teenagers are sleep deprived because they are unable to calm their minds down from a frenzied day.
The well being we obtain from each additional minute of sleep is far more important than the short-term successes we gain from each moment we try to keep our eyes open. Psychologist David G. Myers asserts that sleep “strengthens memory, increases concentration, boosts mood, moderates hunger and obesity, fortifies the disease-fighting immune system, and lessens the risk of fatal accidents.” Getting more sleep may mean you don’t set the curve on your math test or do well on your English presentation, but these are not the successes that will ultimately matter.
Many stressed-out students need to step back from their anxiety and prioritize their lives. Teenagers need to acknowledge their limitations both academically and in terms of their extracurricular activities. Instead of signing up for an impossible course load or packing in an unmanageable amount of after school activities, students must be realistic and create schedules that keep them sane. Teachers must also accommodate their students by not assigning hours of busy work each week. In doing so, we might take some of the weight out of today’s teens’ minds and backpacks.