The Problem We Sleep On

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

By Amy Shin


Graphic by Senching Hsia, Graphics Editor

In 1964, a high school student named Randy Garden from San Diego stayed awake for 11 days straight. He soon observed a plethora of disturbing side-effects: he could not focus, identify objects by touch, or recount crucial pieces of information. On top of that, he experienced hallucinations.These, however, were simply short term side-effects. Other side-effects of sleep deprivation over a longer period of time include hormonal imbalance, illness, and even death.

The Problem

Despite research that states that adolescents need to sleep about 8 to 10 hours per night, an overwhelming pool of statistics reveal that the vast majority are sleep deprived. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that only 15% of teens get the sleep they need to fully replenish their energy in regards to both their physical and mental health.


There are several factors contributing to this public health concern. Often times, adolescents have irregular sleep patterns across the week, and stay up later on the weekends. This may affect their circadian rhythms and damage their quality of their sleep. Furthermore, the quality of sleep is undermined by the frequent use of technology, including smartphones, tablets, and computers prior to sleep. The light emitted from these devices stimulates the brain, making it difficult for the body to enter its restorative sleep phase. The greatest challenge of sleep deprivation is the vicious, cyclic nature of it. A sleep deprived individual will develop a harmful pattern whereby he or she will indulge in drugs and stimulants like caffeine instead of getting the sleep he or she needs, which can further harm body’s natural circadian rhythm.


Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

When the body is sleep deprived, it will often enter into “micro-sleep” at random points throughout the day because of the body’s natural urges. This can be deadly for all individuals who drive, regardless of their age. In fact, it has been reported that 31% of drivers will fall asleep while driving at least once in their lives. In the U.S. alone, 100,000 accidents are attributed to “falling asleep at the wheel.”


Another consequence is the increased chance of weight gain. In fact, those who sleep 5 hours or less each night have a 50% higher likelihood of becoming obese. This is because sleep-deprived bodies release increased levels of Ghrelin, a “hunger hormone” that makes the body crave carbohydrates.


There are also several psychological impacts, such as sustained stress and increased impulsiveness. Sleep deprivation makes individuals acutely aware of their body’s pain. This causes adolescents to feel stressed, act aggressively, and exhibit other inappropriate behaviors.


Finally, sleep deprivation can impede learning in several ways. Individuals will struggle to focus throughout the day, retain important information, listen actively, and solve problems. This is because the brain has not undergone the necessary processes to rejuvenate and reach its full productivity. According to Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience, deep sleep is essential to memory consolidation, creativity, and complex problem solving.


What should we do about it?

These days, people tend to view sleep as a luxurious indulgence that can reasonably be sacrificed for “more important” demands and responsibilities. The belief that “sleep is a criminal waste of time and a heritage from our cave days,” as Thomas Edison once famously stated, is evidenced by the public’s unhealthy sleep regimen.


Adolescents must begin to alter their attitudes and habits. To get the full 8 to 10 hours of slumber, they need to be mindful about their intake of caffeine and other stimulants, especially later in the day. Individuals should also create a “haven for sleep” in their rooms by making the temperature slightly cool and turning off all lights at night. Furthermore, they should reduce light exposure at least thirty minutes before bed by using dim lights in the bathroom when brushing their teeth or staying away from electronics. Finally, adolescents should recognize that this demands a lifestyle change. Individuals need to adjust their work habits to use time more efficiently and maximize productivity, which includes abandoning habits of procrastination. Ultimately, individuals can afford more restorative sleep by using daytime more wisely to complete their tasks.


Sleep more by making simple and purposeful changes in your lifestyle.


References:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/teens-and-sleep

https://www.ted.com/talks/claudia_aguirre_what_would_happen_if_you_didn_t_sleep/up-next?language=en

https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gartenberg_the_brain_benefits_of_deep_sleep_and_how_to_get_more_of_it?language=en

https://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep/up-next?language=en

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