• Brigid Mullen

Teenagers and Their Complicated Relationship With Sleep

Everyone needs to sleep, especially developing teenagers. And don’t teens love to sleep? If you ask any high schooler, they’ll probably agree that we should bring back naptime in school, and they’ll tell you you’re lucky if you were able to get to sleep at ten o’clock last night. They’ll also probably tell you they didn’t get enough sleep last night, that they’re exhausted, and that they can’t remember the last time they got a full eight hours of sleep or woke up feeling well rested. But this is just stereotypical teen stuff, right? Lazy kids that just like to complain about how hard their lives are, even though it’s totally their fault? If teenagers love to sleep so much, why don’t any of us have a good, healthy sleep schedule? Why can we never seem to get to sleep on time?

For many, the answer is simple: school. Especially for kids in multiple advanced courses each giving them hours of homework each night, school can keep you busy far into the late hours of the night. This issue was recently made worse at La Follette with the seven-period day, and having all of your classes every day, whereas last year you might have had two nights to do your homework. “There’s more homework now in the seven block system because teachers still assign the same amount, but we have more classes,” stated Kristen Menge (11). Menge takes several AP classes, and says she often loses sleep because of how much homework she has every night. So why not just start your homework right when you get home, so if you have four hours of homework, you’re only working from four to eight instead of eight to midnight? It seems like it should be easy enough. But usually, kids need some time to unwind, and take time for themselves after a long day at school, and it can be incredibly draining to force yourself to get all your work done immediately when you get home, especially after you’ve already spent all day at school. It’s significantly better for a teenager’s mental health to take some time for themselves after spending seven hours at school. But this is just another example of kids being lazy, right?

So let’s assume it was healthy to do hours of homework immediately when you get home from school. Many teenagers still wouldn’t be able to do this due to their onslaught of extracurricular activities. On any given day, kids are busy with sports, music lessons or rehearsals, part-time jobs, volunteering, taking care of younger siblings/family, or any other number of after school activities that teenagers are encouraged to take part in. With these extracurriculars, a student is busy with school for seven hours, then their after-school activities for several hours, and then multiple hours of homework every night. Then suddenly it’s 11 pm, and you haven’t really had time to socialize with friends, take time for yourself, or do anything other than try to keep up with your responsibilities. You’re exhausted, and you now have a little less than eight hours before you have to wake up and do it all again.

Another disadvantage teens are at when it comes to a good sleep schedule is their “biological clocks” -- that is, their bodies’ natural unwillingness to fall asleep and wake up early. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.” If it’s common for teens to be unable to fall asleep early, how can they be expected to get enough sleep before the early school day?

So what’s the solution? Unfortunately, it’s not easy. There’s no perfect fix for this issue, unless all high schools suddenly take into account the opinions of professionals and begin later, which seems unlikely. So, currently the most we can do is remember this information: that while a lot of teens might be tired, seemingly lazy, and falling asleep during class, it’s not actually because we’re stereotypically apathetic; it’s due to our biology and how much we’re all trying to get done in a day. We’re tired all the time because our bodies aren’t meant to wake up as early as high schools are generally starting, and we try to make the most of our time by filling our afternoons

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