Why Are Teens So Tired?

Kaylie Hill, Contributor

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Yawns. Eye-rubbing. Heads on desks. These are all common sights in a typical high school first period classroom. Furthermore, they can be seen all throughout the day, as teenagers continue to drag through their classes. Teachers see it as lazy, parents see it as angsty, but is it really just a skewed circadian rhythm? This is a question that scientists are beginning to look into in an effort to help teens get more sleep.

Everyone knows that teens rise early for school every weekday; some wake up at 7 A.M., some at 6 A.M., and some even as early as 5 for morning practices and meetings. However, people are now questioning whether the school schedule is beneficial for students. The current schedule, beginning at 8 A.M. and ending at 3 P.M. was originally based off of the days when children went to school in the morning and came home in the afternoon to help with work on the farm. This routine is no longer a factor anymore, so as of now it does high school students more harm than good.

For one, teenagers stay up later than other ages and therefore have a need to sleep in later. While adults often attribute this night owl syndrome to rebellion, scientists have proven that it is due to many causes ranging from academic and social obligations to biological rhythms. Studies have shown that older teenagers secrete melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm, about an hour later than younger teenagers, which means they do not feel the need to sleep until about 10:30 at the earliest. Even if teens feel tired and sleep deprived, they often report being unable to sleep until after this time, according to a study done by the New York Times.

Furthermore, melatonin causes older teens to have all their phases of sleep delayed as well. The final phase of sleep, known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM), or dreaming, does not end until around 7 A.M. for older teens. This means that if they wake up too early, this phase is either interrupted or altogether skipped, causing teens to feel more tired as their brains are not fully awake. Often times, the brain tries to put itself back into REM at inconvenient times, such as first period classes. This causes the inevitable grogginess that high school students are known for.

Optimally, teens need around 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night, but most do not even get close to this number. Overtime, this lack of sleep causes an accumulated sleep deficit, which results in short tempers, angsty attitudes, and sleeping in on the weekends. Many more unfortunate behaviors are derived from sleep deficit, such as prohibited creative thinking, self-medicating and unsafe driving. Pushing school start time back could aid with helping teens finish their REM cycle. However, changing school schedules is problematic for more reasons than one. Primarily, it gives students less time for homework, activities, and jobs after school. Also, it may be more difficult for parents to drive their students to school. Ultimately, changing the schedule is just not probable.

In light of this, if you happen to be a sleep-deprived high school student, here are a few ways to get a better night’s sleep. Eliminating stress will help you to be at ease, and coming up with a relaxing bedtime ritual will tell your body that it is time to sleep. Putting phones aside and turning off the T.V. will help to make your room a welcoming sleep environment. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night to allow the REM cycle to be complete. If all else fails, telling yourself that you got a good night’s sleep will trick the brain into believing that you did. Hopefully, high school teachers can look forward to seeing more students bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in their early morning classes.

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