Sleep is for the week

Amid reports of sleep deprivation, administration seeks sleep promotion

Drawing by Ellie Reisman

Drawing by Ellie Reisman

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‘Sleep Week’ remains in the works

Studies show that it’s common for teenagers to not get enough sleep. The student body of Oak Park High School is no exception.

In a school-wide effort to promote sleep, Principal Kevin Buchanan is working alongside various teachers, faculty and students to potentially set up a “Sleep Week.” This idea originates from the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week, which occurred March 11 to 17.

“To raise awareness of just how important sleep is — not just for teenagers, but for everyone, in terms of rejuvenation, health, weight management, mental health — it’s critical,” Buchanan said.

The week remains prospective, as details have yet to be finalized.

“We don’t know what it looks like. Maybe we have a competition for the best PJs, maybe we convince our teachers to ease up on homework that week,” Buchanan said. “We’re just brainstorming ideas.”

Though the details are in the works, the goal is apparent: To acknowledge the importance of healthy sleep schedules, and reconcile sleep with academic achievement.

“A lot of our kids are working. They’ve got commitments outside of school,” Buchanan said. “You guys are busy all the time.”

Bennett: ‘[Sleep] affects … attention, concentration … health.’

Sleep psychologists have determined that there is a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and mental health: the less sleep an individual gets, the worse his or her mental state tends to be.

For example, obstructive sleep apnea — a condition in which a person wakes frequently and very briefly throughout the night — is linked to depression. Stanford researcher Maurice Ohayon conducted a 2003 study of 18,980 people, and found those with obstructive sleep apnea to be five times as likely to have clinical depression.

Though difficulties with sleeping may worsen mental health, the reverse is also possible.

“If a teenager already has a mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder or depression, they will be at a higher risk for impairment due to sleep deprivation,” child psychologist Dr. Tracy Bennett said.

Numerous teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation. On average, the general demographic gets 7.5 hours of sleep, approximately two hours less than the suggested 9.3 hours.

Consequently, science discovered that the brain becomes unable to perform “general housekeeping duties” — removing toxins, generating new neurons, repairing damaged neurons and consolidating memory.

“After 16 hours of wakefulness, that’s when you start experiencing physiological and psychological impairment. After 19 hours, driving sleep-deprived becomes the equivalent of driving drunk,” Bennett said.

University of California, Los Angeles, found that as students get older, they will compromise more and more sleep for studying. But doing so contributes to both difficulties in comprehension during class time, and poor performance on tests, quizzes and homework — the very outcome students are staying up late to avoid.

“If you’re really sacrificing your sleep for that cramming, it’s not going to be as effective as you think, and it may actually be counterproductive,” UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences Andrew J. Fuligni said.

Teenagers are also losing sleep due to usage of screen media, which contains white and blue light.

“When your eyes hit that [light], it triggers your melatonin, which is your sleep-regulating hormone. So, if you have screens in bed, and you’re looking at [them], then it’s going to dump your regulating hormone,” Bennett said. “Plus, if you’re watching screens in bed, then you’re training yourself through conditioned learning to be awake in bed rather than asleep.”

Should students sacrifice sleep-related health for academics?

As revealed by the Challenge Success survey, Oak Park High School students get 6.8 hours of sleep on average. Furthermore, 73 percent of respondents reported that schoolwork “often or always kept them from getting enough sleep.”

Though the survey was conducted in 2015, not much has changed since then.

“I get about seven hours of sleep each night,” junior Grace Ma said. “Even though the amount I’m getting is enough to get me through a day, I still feel like my body needs nine or 10.”

This sleep schedule, when compared to that of a freshman, appears decidedly different.

“I usually get about seven to eight hours of sleep on an average night. I think that’s healthy for someone my age,” freshman Shri Arulmani said. “I don’t have that much homework, so I don’t lose much sleep.”

Second-semester seniors, who are left waiting on college admissions at this time of the year, are also catching up on their sleep.

“I’m definitely taking more care of myself [this semester]. I sleep now at around 10 or 11 p.m.,” senior Yui Sato said. “It’s a lot better from my junior year, which is when I was probably getting two to three hours [of sleep] per night.”

Ma said waking up in the morning is only half the challenge; making it through the day is the rest of it.

“I can physically feel it when I’m tired. In class, when we’re taking notes, or when the lights are turned off for a video, my concentration slips and all I can think about is getting home,” Ma said. “Tiredness just makes you feel … burnt out.”

The University of Georgia’s Health Center reported that most college students sleep for around six hours every night. However, most high school students are less concerned about the amount of sleep they’ll get leading up to college — and more concerned about getting into college itself.

“Sleep deprivation is the least of my problems,” Goldberg said. “Getting into college? That’s the real challenge.”

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