Sleep deprivation is rampant in our nation. Nowhere is it so prevalent as among our teens. The consequences are costly and sometimes fatal.
I looked around the roomful of teens. One boy sitting by the windows was engaged and alert. Two girls whispered to each other. Most of the others were lethargic or sleeping. The principal had asked me to take the first-period history class until the substitute teacher arrived. How in the world did a teacher impart knowledge to kids who appeared drugged?
I walked down the aisles handing out slips of paper. “Okay students. I’m here until your sub arrives. Unfortunately, I don’t have lesson plans.”
Cheers and a chorus of “Aw’s” told me the kids wouldn’t miss doing classwork. “Don’t worry. They’ll be here in due time. Meanwhile, I have a plan.”
That remark elicited groans. What was it with these kids? Did they think they should be allowed to visit with friends and nap during first period?
When everyone had a slip of paper, I returned to the front of the room. “We’re going to do a little survey. You don’t need to sign your name, so you can be completely honest. Write the time you went to sleep (all electronics off) last night and the time you got out of bed this morning. Then put your advanced math to work and figure out how many hours you slept. Circle that number.”
I paused as they followed my instructions. “Fold the paper in quarters, and I’ll collect them.”
Sleep Deprivation in One Classroom
The results were wide-ranging. Two kids got nine hours. Most got around seven. One who slept less than seven got under four. No wonder they were in a stupor.
Sleep Deprivation Facts
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-10 hours a night for teens. That’s interesting but far more important are the consequences of too little sleep.
I recommend parents read the parts of the site that apply to teens. Here are some unsettling results of sleep deprivation according to the NSF: impaired driving, inability to concentrate, and increased acne. (Yes—more pimples.) The article mentions increased arguments with family and poor grades often caused by forgetting homework (inability to concentrate). Also, there is a high correlation between lack of sleep and depression.
The Next Step
So what is a parent to do? Here is a way to begin: homework before dinner instead of later, electronics off by eight, and—yes—a lighter, more manageable schedule. More about that later. I realize this may seem harsh, but with the severe repercussions of overload and sleep deprivation, we must do something.
And when the kids protest, remind them that their job five days a week is school and that the weekend is coming.
In my next blog, I’ll suggest ways to help your teen get the sleep he or she needs.