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Health and Disease

Adolescent Sleep Deprivation: Effects and Solutions

Sleep deprivation is becoming increasingly prevalent among our youth. In fact, an estimated 50% of children do not receive an adequate amount of sleep each night. In order to solve this crisis, we must ask ourselves: why is sleep deprivation so common, what effects does it have, and how can we put a stop to it?

By Lily Kangas

Published 6:56 PM EST, Fri March 12, 2021

Abstract

Sleep deprivation is a pressing issue among teenagers and has many adverse effects that may lead to long term consequences to various aspects of one’s life and should not be taken trivially. Sleep is essential for balance and wellbeing in one’s life, especially in adolescents. Factors such as biological tendencies and technology may hinder teenagers’ sleep, leading to a variety of issues ranging from mild fatigue and troubles in school to major health conditions such as heart disease. And while sleep deprivation is a fixable issue, it is of the utmost importance to get out of sleep debt before long term bodily damage takes effect.

Susceptibility/Causes

According to sleephealth.org, at least 11% of adults report getting an insufficient amount of sleep each night and an estimated 50-70 million Americans are sleep deprived. Although sleep deprivation is a common issue among adults, it is even more widespread among children aged 10-19. Adolescents are far more susceptible to becoming sleep deprived due to their biological make-up. During adolescence, the body’s natural clock, known as the circadian rhythm, is programmed differently than that of an adult. During puberty, the circadian rhythm undergoes a dramatic shift forward in its cycling phase. Teens are naturally inclined to stay up several hours later and sleep in longer than adults, however, early school start times and extracurricular activities do incorporate such schedules, so kids are forced to develop unnatural patterns of sleep. This unnatural shift frequently causes teenagers to recieve little amounts of sleep each night because they are unable to change their bodies’ circadian rhythm.

Not only do teenagers’ natural tendencies hinder their sleep, in many cases, technology may also be to blame. A survey conducted by common sense media shows that in the United States, 53% of children own smartphones by the time they turn 11. This technological subculture greatly contributes to the nationwide crisis of sleep deprivation due to the smart phone’s addictive nature. Like nicotine or cocaine, cell phones provide their users with a rush of dopamine. According to Web Watcher, a computer software company, “Dopamine is known as a “reward” or “feel-good” hormone. It’s the chemical that causes you to feel happy. And texts, likes, retweets, and other notifications cause that hormone to be released.” Users become hooked on the dopamine supplied by their devices, leading to the use of their phones more and more often throughout the day and even at night, even when they should be asleep.

Short Term Effects

Sleep deprivation greatly impacts an individual’s social life as the overwhelming desire to fall asleep overrides anything and everything else in a sleep deprived person’s life, including social interaction. Hence, while in social environments, a sleep deprived person may not have the energy or motivation to carry out basic interactions. A study at the University of California, Berkeley showed that sleep deprivation often presents itself in a manner similar to that of social anxiety. Socially anxious people often withdraw from society and do not take part in activities involving large groups of people. Similarly, because interaction involves alertness and engagement, those suffering from sleep deprivation tend to avoid social outings because they are too fatigued to hold even simple conversations (Healthline).

On top of one’s social life being harmed, sleep deprivation is often a cause of drops in GPA and test scores. Research shows that on average, students have a very hard time developing a healthy and consistent sleeping pattern, as their sleep varies tremendously as schoolwork increases or decreases. A study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital “measured sleep and circadian rhythms as well as the association to academic performance among college students…The research found that students who had more regular sleep patterns had better average school grades” (SI news). The study showed that the body’s natural clock’s rhythm was roughly 3 hours later than in people who have erratic sleep patterns. For example, a test may be scheduled for 10 am, which to an erratic sleeper, feels like 7 am, hence impairing the student’s abilities.

Finally, when one fails to get an adequate amount of sleep each night, mental health often takes the biggest hit. Symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation range from mild sleepiness to severe tolls on a person’s mental health, depending on the individual and severity of deprivation. Being sleep deprived can often lead individuals to feel overwhelmed because they don’t feel equipped or energized enough to do the things they need for school, work, etc., which can lead to hopelessness, excess stress, depression, or anxiety. Sleep deprivation also alters one’s mood dramatically, increasing irritability and hindering an individual’s ability to deal with even minor inconveniences. 

Long Term Effects

While sleep deprivation is often seen as a trivial issue with minor or no lasting implications, not getting enough sleep can lead to serious health conditions and in extreme cases, death. The absence or lack of sleep over long periods has been found to cause issues like hormone imbalance, susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes or heart failure, and greater risk of death. Research from Medical News Today shows that sleep deprivation can inhibit hormone production and lead to imbalances in growth hormones and testosterone as well as hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. Leptin creates the feeling of satiety and fullness so when circulating levels of leptin are high, one’s appetite will be lost. In contrast, ghrelin creates the sensation of hunger, so when an individual’s ghrelin is high, their appetite will be as well, often leading to substantial amounts of weight gain. Sleep deprivation also puts people at risk for type 2 diabetes as inadequate sleep causes the release of insulin, leading to an increase in fat storage. Additionally, sleep is needed for heart vessels to heal and rebuild, maintain blood pressure and sugar levels, and control inflammation. When one does not get enough sleep for such healing to occur, they put themselves at risk for major heart conditions such as cardiovascular disease (Medical News Today). Many people who are severely deprived of sleep may not even realize the damage they are doing to their bodies before it is too late to reverse the problems. 

Solutions

While it may seem hopeless, sleep deprivation is a fixable issue, assuming that no major health conditions occur. There are many ways one can get back into a healthy and adequate sleep cycle such as setting limits for oneself, turning off technology before bed, or even seeing a doctor. However, recovering from sleep deprivation can often bring feelings of frustration because not only is it very difficult to completely reset the body’s internal clock, “catching up on a missed night of sleep isn’t quite the same as getting the sleep you need in the first place. When you catch up, it takes extra time for your body to recover. According to a study from 2016, it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep” (Healthline). In addition to making schedule changes, Healthline says that some of the most effective ways to catch up on missed sleep is to take power naps, go to bed earlier, and sleep in a few hours later than usual on the weekends. Additionally, while sleep deprivation is reversible, it is extremely important to get out of sleep debt before long term consequences take effect. 

Lily Kangas, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Mccullough, Adam David, et al. “SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy.” 

SiOWfa15 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, 7 Oct. 2015, 

sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/10/07/how-does-sleep-effect-grades/comment-page-1/.

Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct01/sleepteen.

Monroe, Jamison. “Technology and Sleep Deprivation Affect Teens.” Newport Academy

Newport Academy, 11 Jan. 2019, http://www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/technology-and-sleep-deprivation/.

News Center. “Among Teens, Sleep Deprivation an Epidemic.” News Center

med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/10/among-teens-sleep-deprivation-an-epidemic.html.

Segaren, Sharuna. “The Impact of Sleep on Academic Performance.” Study International, 9 Oct. 

2019, 

http://www.studyinternational.com/news/the-impact-of-sleep-on-academic-performance/.

Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner, an 

Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018

 WebWatcher, Published. “Is Your Teen Addicted? How Parental Control Apps Can Treat 

Smartphone Addiction.” WebWatcher, 19 Mar. 2019, http://www.webwatcher.com/blog/is-your-teen-addicted-how-parental-control-apps-can-treat-smartphone-addiction/ 

By Lily Kangas

Lily Kangas is a student at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California. She is interested in all STEM fields, specifically medicine, neuroscience, and psychology.

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