Sleep deprivation damages student concentration

Brianna Fay

Around campus, it's evident that Wayland students don't always get the 9.5 hours adolescents between the ages of 11 and 22 need. (Credit: Brianna Fay/WSPN)

If you are a teenager at Wayland High School, chances are you have been sleep deprived at some point in your high school career. We all know the routine: you hear that dreaded beeping of the alarm, hit the snooze button three or four times, throw on the nearest article of clothing, and head to school in a daze.

The effects of fatigue don’t stop when students arrive at school, so it’s not out of the ordinary to see that kids have mastered the technique of using hoods and hats to cover their closed eyes while they nap. Those who do manage to stay awake and listen to the teacher while drowsy probably don’t comprehend much of the information being taught.

“What good does it do to try to educate teenagers so early in the morning?” – James B. Maas, world-renowned sleep expert.”

 “What good does it do to try to educate teenagers so early in the morning?” said one of the nation’s leading sleep experts, Cornell University psychologist James B. Maas, PhD, to the “Monitor on Psychology.”  “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.”

So how much sleep is enough? According to researchers, adolescents between the ages of 11 and 22 need an astonishing 9 ½ hours of sleep. That is two more hours than the 7 ½ that the average teen gets each night. Since WHS starts the morning at 7:30 a.m., most students would need to be asleep by 9:30 p.m. Many parents and teachers say that the solution is simple: go to bed earlier. But for students who take part in after school activities in addition to homework, that just isn’t going to happen.

A teenager can sometimes get a good night’s sleep but still feel sleepy and dazed it in the morning. The hormone melatonin in the brain is responsible for this feeling, controlling the body’s internal sleep cycles. Researchers from E.P. Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island conducted an experiment that measured the presence of melatonin in teenagers’ saliva at different times of the day. They learned that the melatonin levels of teenagers rise later at night than they do in children and adults, and remain at a higher level later in the morning. This leaves us yearning for our pillows, even when it’s 9 a.m.

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“There are plenty of times when I’ve been up all night studying for a first block test, but once I actually go to take the test, I’m so exhausted that I don’t even care whether I do well or not,” said freshman Caroline Mellen.

Drowsy driving is another dangerous effect of sleep deprivation. Every year, more than 50,000 adolescents are involved in car accidents caused by lack of sleep. However, since sleep-deprivation cannot be measured posthumously, it’s impossible to determine whether it is a factor in accidents when the driver does not survive, so this number could actually be far greater.

Australian researchers conducted an experiment to compare impairment from sleep deprivation to impairment from different blood alcohol levels. They concluded that after 17 hours of sleeplessness, participants in the study were about as impaired as they were with an alcohol level of 0.05 percent, which some western states define as legally drunk.

A common proposal is to switch to an 8:30 school start time, but would that be realistic? “Personally I would love for school to start at 8:30,” said math teacher Hannah Marton. “But to play the devil’s advocate, wouldn’t kids just go to bed later at night? I don’t think the extra hour would actually make much of a difference in their sleep schedules.”