This article was timely as this week my son took his yearly standardized tests. He has to get up at 6am to get ready for school so he can arrive just before 7am. He will then sit in the testing room he is assigned to and will take a test that will determine his future. Of course what they are not thinking about as these students enter the school is that more then half of the students walk on campus with an energy drink, diet soda or Starbucks in their hand. They are all yawning, dragging their feet and look like they could use two more hours of sleep. When they normally attend class at least 3-4 of the students will want to put their head down during at the very least 1 period. These are not fresh, excited students. These are sleep deprived people that our culture is trying to get to fit into a cheapest easiest way to give them an education. We have not created an education that is designed for them to become successful educated individuals that can perform at their optimum.
Add to this early more education some new parts to our culture. Their diets include processed food, chemical substances, and stimulants like caffeine. They are exposed to light 24 hours a day and their brains are stimulated from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. They are in the computer, playing video games or watching television. They have 2-3 hours of homework they need to do when they come home. They also have outside activities. Things like my son’s Boy Scout meeting will last from 7-10:30 at night. We have not set them up for optimal sleep we have set them up to be sleep deprived.
It is difficult to tell a 5’10” boy that it is bed time at 9 or 10 pm. The world has not stopped or even slowed down by then. He still has homework he wants to tweak, friends to chat with or challenge on a game, or just wants to watch a show he knows everyone will be talking about at school the next day. He gets tired around 11-12pm and is sound asleep no later then 1am. On the weekend he sleeps until 11am and sometimes a little longer. His friends are the same way.
I believe that we have to look at what our children need, how to create a healthy environment for them and then nurture that. Is sending our children to school at 7am really in their best interest? One of the local school districts changed the time for the high school children from 7 to 9. Next year they are changing it back because it interferes with after school work and activities. Did they even bother to look at the student’s attendance, grades or test results? They did not.
So what is the result of sleep deprivation with our teens? It is multifold, sleep deprivation can increase the incidence of depression, increase the symptoms of ADD, increase the chances of obesity. It interferes with learning and storing information into long term memory.
Now we need to explain to our teens why a sleep routine, turning off all electronics and going to bed early I so important. We need to overcome peer pressure so that our children understand that this is the norm. We need to be examples for them. We need a very strong sleep routine that includes turning off the computer and the television. We need to make time for the family to sit and eat together and read together. These changes will help them during the tough teen years. We need to help them reach their true potential.