It gives me immense joy to say that some of my best memories were made during my six years at Costa Mesa Middle/High School, from falling off of the podium in marching band and falling (twice) on the old Lyceum stage to falling on rainy days en route to Mr. Ryan’s for free pancakes before CST testing and falling on dry days scrambling to the lunch line when it was hot wings and fries day. But a different kind of falling permeated these memories and so many more—falling asleep.
Sleep isn’t taught in schools. I don’t know if much has changed in the year I’ve been out of the California public school system, but I don’t remember a single lesson devoted to sleep, or even a single teacher mentioning sleep at all—so we kind of forget about it. We are told in passing how important sleep is, but it is never emphasized as much as eating your five-a-day or getting an hour of physical activity in every day, despite the “triumvirate of health” being made up of sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
Let me repeat this mantra to you, ingrained into my head from my Sleep and Dreams class by the fabulous Dr. William Dement, a pioneering scientist in the field of sleep study:
Drowsiness is red alert.
So why does getting enough sleep matter?
Because DROWSINESS IS RED ALERT!
Drowsiness occurs when you have built up a large number of hours of lost sleep, also known as your “sleep debt.” It’s pretty simple math, actually. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night—yet only 15% of teenagers report sleeping at least 8 ½ hours every night.
So say you start out your week with 0 hours of sleep debt. Pretty good, didn’t have a busy weekend, slept in a bunch. You have a huge test on Tuesday, so you only get 5 hours of sleep on Monday night. You have a drama rehearsal that takes up all your time on Tuesday, so you get 6 hours of sleep that night. If we use 8 hours as the bare minimum needed for you to have an adequate amount of sleep, then by Wednesday you’ve already accumulated 5 hours of sleep debt you need to make up—and by the looks of your demanding schedule, you’re not going to be able to get that any time soon, and it’s just going to keep increasing and increasing until you drop into exhaustion.
Sleep deprivation is dangerous. When you’re sleep deprived, you are as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08%. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the danger of driving while drowsy: falling asleep at the wheel results in 1500 deaths per year, and there are an estimated 100,000 crashes per year related to driver fatigue. Sleep deprivation is also detrimental to your health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the consequences of teenagers not getting enough sleep include:
- A limitation on your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems.
- Make you more prone to pimples.
- Aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at your friends (that’s mean)
- A desire to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods like sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain
- Illness, not using equipment safely or driving drowsy.
The National Sleep Foundation also conducted a study that correlates mood with sleep deprivation, using a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), which times how long it takes for a test subject to fall asleep. The faster you fall asleep, the more sleep deprived you are. According to the study:
“The NSF poll calculated depressive mood scores for each of the 1,602 poll respondents by measuring adolescents' responses to four mood states (using a scale of "1" to "3" where 1 equals "not at all" and 3 equals "much"):
- Felt unhappy, sad or depressed;
- Felt hopeless about the future;
- Felt nervous or tense; and
- Worried too much about things.
Yikes. This is definitely not good. So how can you get enough sleep, balance your responsibilities, and have a social life/watch a lot of Netflix? Here are some solutions from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Make sleep a priority. Please don’t brush it off! You need it!
- Take naps! Naps are fun! Naps are good! Just remember to plan them carefully, and don’t sleep too long or too close to your normal bedtime.
- Keep a sleep journal! Mark how many hours you get a night and when you go to sleep.
- Keep your room a sleep haven: cool, quiet, and dark. Buy a blindfold and ear plugs if you need to!
- Don’t drink coffee too close to bedtime.
- Do not drive when you’re sleepy.
- Establish a bedtime! Keep a regular sleeping pattern!
- Don’t eat, drink, or exercise within two hours of bedtime. Don’t do homework before bed either, and in the hour before you go to sleep, please avoid TVs, computers, and cell phones—I know that’s hard, I always go on Instagram right before bed, but at least try to keep it to a minimum.
- Pull a Pavlov and establish a nightly routine to get you ready for bed: take a shower, brush your teeth, read a book…
- Make to-do lists or keep a diary! This will help relieve some stress, and let you fall asleep easier.
- Peer pressure your friends into getting enough sleep too. Everyone talks about all-nighters—brag about your good night’s sleep!