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Sleep deprivation should be condemned, not celebrated

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Teens should be getting over 8 hours of sleep to stay healthy.

Riley Wheaton, St. Paul Academy and Summit School

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I’m chronically sleep deprived. I bet you are too. It’s partly the fault of our high schools who demand perfection in sports, in academics, and in the construction of a perfect (but totally baffling) college application narrative, and yet who refuse to start their schools at a reasonable time. However, our sleep deprivation is also partly our fault, and there’s no escaping blame.

We all stay up late for different reasons. Some of us stay up late because we have a really big paper due the next day. Some of us do it because we’re talking with a friend and having a really good conversation. But some of us also do it because we can’t bring ourselves to tear away from Facebook (I have been guilty of this one). Let me ask another question: Have you ever gotten into a competition over who got the least sleep the previous night? Have you ever heard this conversation:

“I am literally dying. I only got 5 hours of sleep last night.”

“Are you kidding? I only got 3. Uuuugghhh…”

Sleep deprivation is not a joke. It’s not a competition. It’s killing us.”

— Riley Wheaton, Columnist

There’s status in being so busy or so necessary to a team that you had to stay up into the early morning. We hear this conversation, this competition, and we don’t even think to question the assumption “those who get the least sleep deserve respect for it.”

I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. Sleep deprivation is not a joke. It’s not a competition. It’s killing us. Teenagers need a minimum of 8 hours per night. Now, how much do you get? I know I get a lot less. The consequences for not getting enough sleep are sometimes pretty obvious– like drowsiness during class or inability to focus on homework– but sometimes they can be insidious, or even downright terrifying.

When we don’t sleep enough we slog through the day, our eyelids drooping, counting down the minutes and seconds until class ends, we push ourselves through school activities, and then we get home. That might be worst of all. We try desperately to lock our concentration to the page in front of us but we just can’t. The whole world becomes a dismal grey race to the finish line and we feel truly terrible all the way along.

Unfortunately, there are actually some much sneakier side effects that we may not immediately connect to not sleeping enough. I’m sure some of you have colds you can’t shake, or you may be more prone to get colds than the average bear. Studies have shown that getting even seven hours of sleep (as opposed to eight) a night can triple your chances of getting a cold, and fundamentally it decreases your ability to fight illness. Ask yourself, do you do better work with a cold, or worse?

If you’re reading this and suffering from depression, sleep deprivation may be partly responsible for your struggle as well. Teens who get less than six hours of sleep are three times more likely to be depressed. Depression is absolutely devastating on a scale I can’t begin to describe, but it is beatable, and one big step to taking it down is sleep eight hours.

However, that’s arguably not the worst side effect. There’s a long list of very scary things lack of sleep does to the body but topping the list are increased risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer, and straight up premature death.

The whole world becomes a dismal grey race to the finish line and we feel truly terrible all the way along.”

— Riley Wheaton, Columnist

So now that we know how terrible sleep deprivation is, what can we do about it? That’s the hardest question of all, and there’s not an easy answer. Here’s perhaps the most feasible idea I’ve found: get together with a friend or two and make a commitment about a time when all of you are going to go to bed come hell or high water. If you get up at six in the morning and you’ve been staying up until one in the morning, start small and go to bed at eleven. You and your friends have to keep one another honest and help each other figure out how to make it work. Is there a time when you could go meet with a teacher to get some help? Or a free period when you could finish some work? One of the biggest challenges of getting good sleep is deciding to make it a priority. Peer pressure is so often used for evil; let’s try to use it for good and get some sleep.

The other incredibly important component of a pact like this is turning off electronics. I tried this a few weeks ago with a friend and we decided we’d check in at 10:45, turn off all devices with screens at 11:00, and go immediately to bed. I usually struggle and “read one more article” or “listen to one more song” and suddenly I’m staring down the barrel of a new day starting in five hours, not having slept yet. Maybe you’ll fail once or twice (I definitely did) but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. Your friends will, hopefully, ridicule you and you’ll do better next time.

I ask readers to exercise their imaginations a lot in these pieces, and I’m going to do it again. Imagine what the world would be like if we all got a good night’s sleep. We wouldn’t miss notes in class and scramble desperately to figure out what had happened. When we get tests back maybe we wouldn’t feel like crying. Maybe we wouldn’t be as sick. We could genuinely greet our friends with happiness and perform on the field like we never have before. There is so much we could do, and the only ingredient missing is sleep.

To be completely honest, in the short term sleep feels like a waste of time to me, and I have a lot of trouble getting enough of it. However, when I look at my friends who get good sleep and I see the faces of people who do not get enough, I KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that sleep is a worthwhile goal. So find a friend and try getting a good night’s sleep for a week. What’s the worst that could happen?

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