Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Why adolescents need more sleep

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Sleep and teenagers has been a popular subject lately — and a very troubling one.

Most teenagers today appear to be very lazy and tired all the time. But this is something they cannot control. They are usually like this because of lack of sleep.

Changes are taking place in teenagers’ bodies, so their biological clocks are changing, too. A child who once woke up at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons now wakes up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and stays awake past 2 o’clock in the morning. This is totally normal, and this part of adolescence is inevitable.

An average teenager should ideally get nine hours of sleep a night. However, considering the way society works today, this is close to impossible on a weekday. Even on weekends, it can be hard to squeeze in seven hours of sleep with soccer games, religious school, piano lessons, etc. Seven to eight hours is the minimum a teenager can get by on. Once again, teenagers are growing rapidly and lack of sleep can have serious consequences.

Not getting enough sleep can take a big toll on anyone, but especially teenagers because they are still growing. Lack of sleep impairs their ability to perform their best during the school day. It also makes it harder to deal with emotions such as stress or depression.

Lack of sleep can also make it harder to control your emotions, such as anger. Not having enough sleep can also weaken your immune system and make you become more vulnerable to illnesses. When a student gets sick, high schools and middle schools can be very unforgiving, and the teen will have to do three days worth of homework in one. This just leads to less and less sleep, and it turns into a vicious cycle.

Teenagers’ bodies cannot handle staying up late and waking up early, so they often use more than their own will to conquer everything from big homework piles at night to catching the bus in the morning.

Between homework, friends and after-school activities, adolescents are very time-pressed. When teenagers are pressed for time, they have very little energy and are exhausted. They resort to something that gives a quick energy boost, something they can devour quickly or chug down. So, what gives a quick burst of energy and takes practically no time to consume? Candy, soda and caffeine.

When your energy is running low, it is only human to go for something that will get you through the next hour of your day. For teenagers, candy, soda and caffeine are very appealing options ...

In my opinion, today’s school system is big contributor why some teenagers are not getting enough sleep. With public high schools staring at 7:20 in the morning, there is no way a teen is going to get even six hours of sleep.

Most public and private high schools pack on the homework with no end. The work is very time-consuming and energy-demanding, and it prevents teenagers from going to sleep at a respectable time. Some homework is necessary, and teenagers need to know how to cope with a little extra work every now and then. However, getting up at 6 in the morning is not needed. I think high schools should start at 9 a.m. and go until 4 p.m. This allows students to get up a little later and get their much-needed rest.

Teenagers often get a bad reputation for being lazy and inconsiderate. Some teenagers are like this, but not all. Many teenagers can be very bright and smart, but aren’t given the chance when they are only getting five to six hours of sleep a night ...

Sleep deprivation is also not always the cause of a teenager’s odd behavior. But there are a lot of teenagers who are affected by sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep in adolescents is a pressing issue that needs to be fixed and can be with the cooperation of public and private schools.

Tarah is a rising freshman at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville. This essay was one of the last school-year activities for the eighth-graders in Joanne Gillespie’s class at Green Acres School in North Bethesda, where Tarah was a student in the spring.