In the eventful and ever-changing life of a teenager, sleep is crucial. Packed schedules, increased time in front of screens, and high levels of stress are preventing teenagers worldwide from getting the recommended nine to ten hours of rest. If this sleep deprivation trend continues, teens won’t reach their full potential mentally, physically, or academically.
According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average teenager only gets seven out of the nine recommended hours of sleep. One reason for this could be overwhelmed school and activity schedules. High schoolers have to worry about keeping up with grades to secure their futures, and keeping up with grades implies completing homework from five or more classes and having enough energy during the day to focus and participate in class. According to a poll of public school teachers conducted by the LA Times, high schoolers in America spend around three and a half hours on homework. After an eight-hour school day packed with work, they have to go home to complete daily chores, three hours of schoolwork, attend after-school programs, and still find time to get nine hours of stress-free, uninterrupted sleep.
As well as completing schoolwork, teenagers are encouraged to participate in time-consuming extracurricular activities such as sports or academic clubs. These kinds of activities are meant to stimulate young minds and build glimmering college resumes; however, if these activities reduce the amount of sleep a teen gets, they will turn harmful rather than helpful. The pressure to secure their futures through grades and extracurricular participation while staying physically active and emotionally stable enough to function in their daily lives is a major culprit in the teen sleep depravation crisis.
Today it seems that many of young people’s problems can be traced back to one thing: screens; the sleep crisis is no different. Whether it be the harmful blue light or the pressure induced by social media, teens’ increased time behind the screen is making effective and consistent sleep difficult. Our brains take cues from sunlight, or lack thereof, to produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. According to the Sleep Foundation, screens produce blue light —a type of light very similar to sunlight. This blue light confuses our brains and prevents melatonin secretion. As well as affecting the physical ability to sleep, technology houses the stressor that is social media. Young people are encouraged by popular media to strive for social popularity in apps like Instagram and Snapchat. The pressure to gain more followers, more attention, more “friends”, is causing sleep-preventing stress on teenage minds. Teens use technology for school, entertainment, communication, and to keep up with their social lives, but insomnia could be stopped by lowering time in front of the screen.
The problem is clear, but how do we fix it? Fighting the teen sleep crisis takes the combined efforts of schools, parents, and teens themselves. Communication and coordination between teachers can help balance after-school work by preventing the overlap of time-consuming assignments. Schools can also provide time management advice to their students, and inform them on the various ways to maintain an organized schedule. Parents can pay attention to their children’s workload and make sure that they are not being overwhelmed. It is not a parent’s responsibility to keep up with a student’s schoolwork for them, but giving their child support when activities begin to pile up can alleviate some stress and lead them to make the correct choices for their well-being. Teens need to understand how technology negatively affects their sleep, and once they do, they need to work to decrease their screen time. Turning off their phones just an hour before bed can encourage deeper sleep and prevent insomnia. Setting a screen time limit for themselves will not only help with sleep, but it will also help create habits of self-control. The combination of these efforts could work to remedy the sleep depravation which plagues our teens.
Sleeping during the teen years is essential for the full development of the bodies and minds of humans. Getting the recommended nine to ten hours of rest a night helps young people function in their daily lives and promotes emotional stability. Clearly factors such as stress, high workloads and the amount of time spent in front of screens are all to blame for decreased amounts of sleep in teens. By working together to encourage time management and inform our young people of the necessity of sleep, we can end the sleep depravation epidemic, and build the future one hour of sleep at a time.
1. Klein, Karen. “About 3.5 Hours of Homework a Day for High Schoolers? That’s Too Much.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 1 Mar. 2014, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/la-xpm-2014-mar-01-la-ol-too-much-homework-20140228-story.html.
2. “Sleep in Adolescents.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital, https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/sleep-disorder-center/sleep-in-adolescents.
3. Suni, Eric. “Sleep for Teenagers.” Sleep Foundation, 5 Aug. 2020, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep.
Photo courtesy of thetornadotimes.net