In recent years, we have started learning more and more about adolescent sleep patterns and how the lack of sleep affects teenagers. As the years go on, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our current system is simply not conducive to students performing well in school. Teens need an average of nine hours of sleep every night—and many only get five or six. And the early start times of most middle and high schools doesn’t help.

According to Slate, as we move into adolescence, our waking times and bedtimes naturally get pushed back to a later time. This continues roughly until we are 20 years old, and then it slowly begins reversing. This biological trend mixed with other sleep-compromising habits has led to some seriously concerning sleep loss for both adolescents and young adults.

Students often drift off in class.

Students often drift off in class.
Image: Kapooka Baby via Flickr

Many parents do not set strict bedtimes for children and teens, which makes it easy for kids to get less sleep than they actually need. We’ve become attached to technological devices as well: TVs, PCs, movies, laptops, video games, cellphones, and more easily suck away sleeping hours and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. And where we once had trained ourselves to wake on our own at dawn, we are now more than ever reliant on alarm clocks to drag us out of bed.

For teens and adults, lack of sleep promotes many negative behaviors: it can make us grumpy, moody, touchy, angry, irritable, insensitive, and more stressed than normal. Teens, who are even more susceptible to mood swings because of hormonal changes, could even become depressed more easily with lack of sleep.

As far as health concerns go, lack of sleep creates a higher level of ghrelin (hormone that promotes hunger) and a lower level of leptin (hormone that helps us feel full). That means that over the long haul, not getting enough sleep can put us at risk for obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Not to mention the fact that sleep deprivation is often accompanied by a greater consumption of caffeine and nicotine.

For teens at least, later start times for schools could go a long way in helping boost academic performance and keeping teens healthy. But that must also be paired with a higher awareness on parents’ and students’ parts. Sleep is important, and it should not be consistently sacrificed. To do so is to put emotional, mental and physical health at risk.