The epidemic: Teen Sleep Deprivation

   We all have that one thing we wish we could be better at. Maybe a sport. Maybe a school subject. Maybe even at work. Something is holding you back, and more and more research lately indicates it’s probably sleep deprivation. 

     The amount of hours we sleep at night plays a larger role in our lives than we think. It affects our decision making process, mood, and physical health.

      According to an article published in 2015 by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), more than one third of Americans do not receive the recommended 7 hours of sleep. Although this statistic is alarming, we should be more concerned for a specific age group’s amount of sleep; teenagers. 

     In a 2015 study conducted by the CDC, 72.5% percent of teens in grades 9-12 are not receiving the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep. Although teens receive more sleep than most young adults ages 18-29, they are at a more crucial state of development physically, mentally, and emotionally.

     First, let’s break down the four stages of sleep. When the body falls asleep, the first stage begins. In this stage, the body is in “light sleep” mode, and only lasts for at most 30-40 minutes. After completing this stage without any interruptions, the body moves into the second stage. Although the body remains in “light sleep” mode, it begins to prepare for deep sleep. In addition, the formation of memories in the mind takes place during this stage. In the third stage the breathing rate, blood pressure, and body temperature decrease ( This allows the body to “produce growth hormones, regulate immune system function, and develop and repair muscle tissue”. The final and longest stage of sleep is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. During this stage, the brain transforms information into long-term memory. While the brain is processing everything it experienced while the body was awake, it allows the unconscious brain to take charge. This is how dreams occur. All of these stages are necessary to complete in order to experience the best sleep possible.


The sleep cycle. (

 At first, the body follows the stages of sleep chronologically, moving from stage 1-4. However, once the body completes a full cycle, it doesn’t restart at stage 1. Instead, it moves from stages 4 to 3 to 2. Instead of moving back to stage 1, the body begins the REM phase. The REM phase is almost necessary in order for the brain to properly process information and memories. This means taking in everything learned in a day.

     Now let’s focus on the physical toll sleep deprivation takes on teenage bodies. Lack of sleep prevents the body from performing necessary “recovering” functions. According to an article published in August 2020 by the Sleep Foundation, sleep plays into physical development by “empowering the immune system, regulating hormones, and enabling muscle and tissue recovery”. Sleep not only gives our bodies time to relax and recharge, it also heals and develops. Lack of sleep affects our brain, which creates a domino effect on the rest of the body. Although sleep deprivation affects teens everyday life, it is bound to stay with them in the future as well. In a research article published in 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies revealed that teens who fail to receive enough sleep are at higher risk of diabetes and long-term cardiovascular problems later in life. If roughly 72.5% of high school age students are not receiving the proper amount of sleep, what disorders/illnesses will our generation face when reaching late adulthood? Is there a way to “cure” sleep deprivation? 

     The solution for teen sleep deprivation seems simple; get more sleep. However, this is more complicated than that. In a poll taken by a group of Norwin High School students, 88.7% of polled students stated that they did not get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep. In addition, 83.9% claimed that they didn’t feel like they were getting enough sleep. What is truly causing teens to receive so little sleep? According to the polls, Norwin students believe that homework, screens(smartphones, televisions, etc.), and extracurricular activities are the main causes. Numerous polled students explained their reasoning. Almost all students who responded, blamed the “root of their problems” on having too much to do in a seemingly small amount of time. Sleep deprived students  revealed their thoughts:

      “School gets done at 2:16 so I get home around 2:30, so when I get home I start some homework. At 4:00 I go to work till about 10;00.  When I get home I need to eat, shower, and do homework. By the time that is all done it is usually around 2:00 am so I have basically lost a whole night of sleep if I need to wake up at 6:00 am.” – Senior Alanna Neidigh

     “I am involved in sports, clubs, play an instrument, take multiple AP/Honors classes, and have two jobs. By the time I finish my activities, work, and schoolwork late at night I can’t stand going to bed just to do it all over again.” – Junior Madison Butina

     The solution to solving teen sleep deprivation is easy:  Make more time! Unfortunately, that is impossible. If all teens were to receive the proper 8 hours of sleep before school, they would have to be asleep by 10:00. If the earliest time some students can fall asleep hours after that, they would have to cut hours of activities. When teens aren’t forced to stay up, many struggle to fall asleep at the proper time. What can they say? Their bodies are used to it! 

     Teens such as senior Samuel Taleff have taken the initiative and tried creating effective solutions to student sleep deprivation. In 2019, Taleff created a proposal to present to the school board, with hopes of pushing back high school start times. Due to the pandemic and other complications, he was unable to present to the board. Taleff explained his reasoning for wanting later school times. 

     “A key trait about teenagers is that their circadian rhythms, their biological clocks, are different from adults’,” said Taleff. “Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, is delayed in teenagers, which means that it can be difficult for a teenager to naturally fall asleep before 11 p.m. In other words, adolescents are biologically programmed to fall asleep later at night than children or adults do. Consequently, it is biologically normal and necessary that they get up later in the morning.”

     This school year, many Norwin students took advantage of having the opportunity to sleep in later. Seniors had the choice of doing half-days at school, so some came into the building at later times around 9-10 a.m. for their classes. 

    “From this change(coming into school later), I have noticed that my emotional health and academic grades are at their all time high,” said Taleff. “Additionally, I feel more energetic and have accomplished more work than I have done in a typical school year.”

     It seems as though the most realistic and effective way to solve the problem of sleep deprivation is to start school days later for high schoolers. When asked what form of schooling allowed them to get the most sleep on the poll, 53.2% of students polled claimed they did when school was fully remote during the Spring of 2020. Many students liked this because they had control over their schedules, and could complete their schoolwork.

     “I got the most sleep in this form of schooling because I was able to manage my own time and I could choose when I did the work which would be all at once in the morning or afternoon,” explained one student Rochelle Lawrence, a senior at Norwin.

     In addition, 19.4% of students polled believed that they got the most sleep during the Fall of 2020 under the no ZOOM meeting, hybrid school model.  

Maleah Phetsomphou

     “I only had to get up for school two days a week, and could sleep until whenever I wanted for the other three days,” said senior Hanna Geissler. “It was the most flexible way of learning regarding sleep and school work compared to all of the other models.”

     Another student polled, junior Ashley Cramer, added positive thoughts on this model as well.

“On the days we had school I wasn’t worried about not getting enough sleep because I knew I could just make it up later in the week when I was at home. The last three days of the week I would be at home and be able to sleep in then do my work which was my preferred schedule.”

     Aside from the students who believed that they got the most sleep from the remote model and asynchronous hybrid model, another 17.7% of students polled believed that fully remote learning with ZOOM meetings was the most effective. Numerous students revealed their reasoning for this because they had a few more additional minutes of sleep due to not having to wake up earlier to physically attend school.

     Although the solution to sleep deprivation is not exact nor easy to determine, one effective way to stop it is through later school times and more flexibility on students’ schedules. The purpose of the hybrid model was for COVID-19 precautions, but many students benefited from the extra minutes of sleep. There seems to be two viable solutions to stopping teen sleep deprivation. First, there should be later high school start times. If not, then other grades besides the senior class should be able to come into the building later. Secondly, the hybrid model should be an option of schooling in future school years. Receiving enough sleep each night is necessary, so there must be an importance and value placed upon it.