Before freshman year of high school I was warned of many things — Of high school classes and the forever looming college decisions; of annoying teachers and their far more annoying exams. But what worried me the most was the certainty with which people told me that eight hours of sleep would be a luxury. From now on, I was told, I would strive to get four hours of sleep and all-nighters would become one of my greatest tools to complete all the work I had. I thought they were joking until I entered high school and everything truly did change.
A national poll taken in 2015 found that 87% of all American high school students received less than the recommended number of hours. This poll is unsurprising given the rising sleep epidemic and the way in which the average high school schedule does not follow teenage tendencies. For one, teenagers need more sleep than children and adults, and have a tendency to sleep later. However, due to the nature of high school, they have to wake up early and as a result, do not get enough sleep. What is more detrimental is how normalized this lack of sleep has become, and how people view all-nighters as a necessity to combat the amount of work given instead of as something that is incredibly detrimental to one’s health. Indeed, sleep deprivation can have a multitude of negative effects, including long term mental health issues and physical issues. And though the phrase “I’ll catch up on sleep over the weekend” is spoken, it is not truly something one can do, and indeed simply interferes with one’s circadian rhythm even further.
So what can be done? The problem itself lies in a multitude of factors such as school times not aligning with teenagers’ biological clocks but also the social culture around sleep itself. When someone speaks of how they had an all-nighter, rather than chastise the individual, we think of how hard they have worked and that they have a strong work ethic. And indeed, they likely do. But individuals should not need to display their work ethic by depriving themselves of sleep. We should not promote the use of time for work against sleep. But when you have a million things to do and a GPA to maintain, sleep can often seem unimportant. To fight against the rising prevalence of sleep deprivation, some things will have to change.
Teenagers are biologically more likely to fall asleep later. Adjusting school schedules, for both high school and college alike, to allow for students to fall asleep later and still get 8-10 hours of sleep would tremendously aid against sleep deprivation. This small shift will greatly increase teenagers’ ability to get the appropriate amount of sleep without having to miss class. More importantly, as a society, we must shift our view of exhaustion as a status symbol. When deciding between work and sleep, sleep should not seem like the irresponsible answer. This will not be an easy shift as many of the underlying causes of this belief in work over sleep will be nearly impossible to shift. However, what we can change now is our choices. There will be times when sleep is simply not an option, however, when faced with the choice of sleep and work, sleep should not take the back burner. We should not be afraid to choose well-being over work.