Sleep Deprivation Epidemic at Seneca Valley

Caroline Foley, Staff Writer

With the school year now in full swing, students are facing an old enemy once again: sleep deprivation. Feeling groggy is nothing new to students, and many simply cope with it during the school year. However, sleep deprivation can affect students in ways much worse than yawns and tired eyes.

The National Sleep Foundation names nine hours as the optimal amount of time for teenagers to sleep each night; however, according to a poll taken in 2006 by the National Sleep Foundation, less than 20 percent of students surveyed got that much rest on school nights.

Based on that statistic, 28 students in a random classroom at Seneca Valley were polled on how much sleep they got each night. Here’s how the results stacked up:

  • Six students (21% of the class) reported getting less than five hours of sleep on an average school night.
  • Eleven students (39% of the class) reported getting between five and six hours of sleep on an average school night.
  • Six students (21% of the class) reported getting six to seven hours of sleep on an average school night.
  • Five students (18% of the class) reported getting seven to eight hours of sleep on an average school night.
  • No student in the surveyed class reported getting more than eight hours of sleep on an average school night.

Though results could easily vary from classroom to classroom, not one student surveyed met the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended guideline for sleep which “defines nine hours a night as optimal for adolescents, eight hours as borderline, and anything under eight hours as not enough.”

When the students were asked via the same survey if they believed the amount of sleep they regularly got negatively affected their energy and performance during the school day, 27 out of 28 students (96% of the surveyed group) responded with a yes.

This comes as no surprise to experts; the American Psychological Association states that “insufficient sleep has also been shown to cause difficulties in school, including disciplinary problems, sleepiness in class and poor concentration.”

James B. Maas, PhD, a leading sleep expert and Cornell University psychologist said, “You can be giving the most stimulating, interesting lectures to sleep-deprived kids early in the morning or right after lunch, when they’re at their sleepiest, and the overwhelming drive to sleep replaces any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding.”

A lack of sleep may contribute to more than poor concentration and the urge to doze off in class. “Insufficient sleep in adolescence increases the risks of high blood pressure and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity,” explained Dr. Judith A. Owens, a pediatric sleep specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, in an interview with The New York Times. “Sleeplessness can also be linked to risk-taking behavior, depression and suicidal ideation, and car accidents.”

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, one of America’s largest pediatric health care and research centers, lists on its website several ways to ensure a good night’s sleep: maintain a regular sleep schedule and avoid changing it during weekends, take early afternoon naps to recharge, and avoid caffeine and electronics close to bedtime.

For many students, however, most of this advice is easier said than done when dealing with a demanding schedule. In a society where grades, extracurricular activities and sports are held in greater regard than a good night’s sleep, students clearly struggle to balance the pressure to perform with the need to nap.