Nighthawk News: Obsession with electronics leave teenagers sleep-deprived

By Alli Spawr
With social networking, other sources of technology and demanding academic schedules, many American teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation each night that can adversely affect their school performance the following day.Approximately 35 percent of people report getting less than seven quality hours of sleep each night, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only one-fifth of American teenagers regularly get a good night’s sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.The recommended amount of sleep for kids ages 12 to 18 is eight to nine hours per day, according to WebMD. When asked why they do not get enough sleep, students often responded that a lack of sleep can be attributed to a rigorous course load that causes a build-up of work.

“Ask your peers – busy lives, homework load, (sitting) in front of electronics before sleep time. (These distractions) create a difficulty in falling to sleep,” said Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell, a sleep specialist at Two Dreams Center. “Nocturnal adolescents like to start partying late and get up late in the morning unless they have a natural rhythm that makes them early risers.”

Senior David Spruill said that he sometimes finds it difficult to get a sufficient amount of sleep on school nights. In order to maintain a high grade point average and his status as valedictorian, he is taking several challenging courses this year that require long hours of homework.

“A demanding schedule in school can definitely affect sleep patterns. During the school year my sleep time varies from seven hours to none, averaging around five hours. It really depends on whether or not my teachers decide to give me lots of homework all on the same day,” Spruill said. “After staying up really late I’m usually all right through the morning, still on adrenaline until lunch, after which my performance definitely dips.”

Some students are aware that their sleep patterns will suffer when signing up for difficult classes and some parents are becoming increasingly concerned with their children’s workloads.

“My schedule is very demanding because each class I take, the teacher rightfully expects it to be my top priority. Rigorous classes and numerous out-of-school activities limit the amount of sleep I am able to have on a daily basis,” junior Aubrey Butcher said. “My parents even see how little sleep I get and worry about how it will affect my health. Often I find myself going to sleep late and then waking up extra early to study. I would say I get anywhere from five to seven hours of sleep on weeknights. Coming into my junior year, this is what I expected to do to achieve my goals in each class, but the lack of sleep really does hinder my learning experience the next day.”

Learning and memory are directly correlated to adequate sleep. The brain’s focus and attention begins to drift when students become tired the following day, causing the brain to not absorb new information as easily, according to researchers at Harvard University. Along with cognitive and motor skills, stress management and emotional control can be impaired without the right amount of sleep, according to Stanford University research.

“The most important thing is management of time. (Teens) have to learn how to manage their time instead of choosing to do social things first. (They) have to complete (their) homework, then focus on (their) social life to a certain degree but (they) have to limit that,” nurse Laura Youmans said. “It is very difficult with technology today (such as) texting and Facebook because (they) get addicted to it. But I tell students that they need to turn all that off at 9 p.m.”

Today’s teens encounter many distractions that can prolong simple tasks. Television, music, gaming, texting and Facebook are all popular diversions.

“Most days I will get home and check my Facebook with the intention of only replying to notifications, but five minutes turns into a couple hours, causing me to start my homework at ten or eleven,” sophomore Mabel Soe said. “Texting is also a factor in homework distraction. I will have my books in front of me but I just feel more obligated to respond to texts than staying focused on homework.”

Experts warn that electronics can cause lack of focus and distractions among students with academic obligations.

“(Do not use anything) that puts out an electronic glow in your bedroom, monitors off, TVs off, no TV half-hour before bed. Make sure if you have a cell phone charging that the face is not lit or facing up,” Dr. Barthwell said.  “No electronic clocks, no nightlights, seek darkness, make your bedroom a cave, no food after 8 p.m. (unless you have night time hypoglycemia) If so, eat a small digestible meal. No caffeine after 3 p.m. Another way to assist or improve sleep habits is to create a sleep ritual.”

Insufficient sleep can be associated with effects including lost work productivity, mental illness, vehicle accidents and poor quality of well-being, CDC reports. Studies also suggest that lack of sleep can decrease the immune system’s ability to fend off colds and other illnesses.

Drowsiness and fatigue affect various aspects of life, but are also the source of more than 100,000 traffic accidents each year. Tired adolescents behind the wheel are the cause for more than half of these sleep-related accidents, according to American Sleep Foundation.

“I had just worked an eight-hour shift, and hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. It was a little after midnight, and I drifted off,” one anonymous student said. “I woke up in the hospital the next afternoon with a broken arm and a burn from my seatbelt from my shoulder down to my hip.”

Kids who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis find it difficult to change their habits on nights before big tests, important sporting events and other activites that require participants to be alert. Students who get a sufficient amount of sleep before potentially life-changing events like the SAT tend to score higher than their tired counterparts according to WebMD.

“Their school performance is low, their learning ability and mental alertness is decreased, and their ability to make judgements and decisions can be altered due to lack of sleep,” Youmans said. “They can’t retain (information) because their brains are too tired.”

Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to long-term effects including high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, mental impairment, attention deficit disorder, fetal and childhood growth retardation, depression and other mood disorders and more, according to WebMD.

“If you are having trouble falling asleep you will have to train yourself,” Dr. Barthwell said. “In order to get back to a reasonable bedtime you will need to slowly inch your bedtime back by a half-hour at a time.”

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