By Alanna Fichtel
In Ms. Missy Crotty’s AP Psychology class, some students were surprised to learn that answers to a survey classified the majority of the class as sleep-deprived. Others expected these results. Most students simply love sleep—but many may not realize that their bodies do too.
It is known that sleep plays a role in processing what we learn throughout the day, as well as strengthening our immune system. New research by Danish biologist Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester suggests that sleep may be an even more vital function for the brain. Sleep allows our brains to clean out all the stuff we’ve been thinking about during the day that our brains don’t need. Nedergaard compares this process in the brain to the lymphatic system, which cleans out toxins in muscle cells.
So what happens if you don’t receive enough sleep? In the short-term, sleep loss affects the brain’s ability to concentrate. However, long-term sleep deprivation could cause lasting brain damage; the buildup of the material the brain cleans out during sleep is associated with neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While sleep deprivation may not cause these diseases, it could lead to early aging in our brains.
Many teenagers today do not obtain the eight hours of sleep they need. Yes, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adolescents sleep at least eight hours a night.
It is evident that students at South are not meeting this goal. A major cause of this sleep deprivation is the rigorous academic and extracurricular schedule many students endure. With club meetings and sports practice after school, students have to balance busy schedules and school work. “I am often forced to decide between a full night’s sleep and the completion of homework and studying,” said senior Skyler Kanfer.
Along with academic workload, the added distractions from electronics and social media prevent teens from getting enough sleep. Last year, senior Katherine Sokolova often went to sleep at 12 and woke up at 4 or 5 a.m. to finish her homework. “This year,” said Sokolova, “I don’t have as much homework, but I still go to bed late because of Internet distractions.”
Compounding the problem is that adolescents’ bodies change as they get older, resulting in their biological clocks starting to go to sleep later. “I think [sleep deprivation] has to do with waking up at a time that just isn’t natural for me or most teenagers,” said junior Isabel Owen.
The scientific community is becoming more aware of how important sleep is for humans, especially adolescents. Teens, however, are not responding to this message. “Sleep is the one responsibility that I deem to be the easiest to sacrifice,” said Kanfer.