Question of the Week

September 12, 2005


It's time for back to school... back to late nights of homework... back to waking early to make it to class on time... and back to days and nights so full that sleep gets the few hours remaining when all else is done.

"Sleepiness (drowsiness, somnolence, hypersomnia) is a feeling of abnormal drowsiness, often with a tendency to actually fall asleep. It is associated with memory deficit, impaired social and occupational performance, and car crashes. Common causes of sleepiness include short sleep time, sleep disorders and other medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism."

Even without "sleep disorders and other medical conditions," lack of sleep makes people sleepy -- and sleepy people do not function at their best. All that said, who has time to sleep?

"[S]ocietal demands on teenagers do not generally allow them to get a full night's sleep: early school starting times, homework and extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and television and computers have made healthy sleep patterns nearly impossible to achieve (Black 2000; Dahl 1999)."

Won't grades go down (and stress levels rise) if students go to bed early rather than staying up late and getting it all done?

"... Sleep requirements differ from one person to the next, depending on age, physical activity levels, general health and other individual factors. In general:
... Teenagers - need about nine to 10 hours
... Teenagers have an increased sleep requirement at the time when social engagements and peer pressure cause a reduction in sleep time. Lifestyle factors such as early school start times deprive them of the required sleep-in."
BHC, Victoria (Australia) Government

Nine to ten hours? Is it really worth it to commit that much time to sleep? And, if "Sleep requirements differ from one person to the next," then how do different people know what is right for them?

"Even if you think you're getting enough sleep, you may not be. Here are some of the signs that you may need more sleep:
   * difficulty waking up in the morning
   * inability to concentrate
   * falling asleep during classes
   * feelings of moodiness and even depression"

For those who are not getting as much sleep as their bodies need:

"This sleep deficit impacts everything from a teen's ability to pay attention in class to his or her mood. Research shows that 20% of high school students fall asleep in class, and experts have been able to tie lost sleep to poorer grades. Lack of sleep also damages people's ability to do their best in athletics. Slowed responses and concentration from lack of sleep don't just affect school or sports performance, though. The fact that sleep deprivation slows reaction times can be life threatening for teens who drive. ... Lack of sleep has also been linked to emotional troubles, such as feelings of sadness and depression. Sleep helps keep us physically healthy, too, by slowing our body's systems enough to re-energize us after everyday activities."

"The fact that sleep deprivation slows reaction times can be life threatening for teens who drive...."

"Knipling and Wang (1995) found that drivers younger than 30 accounted for almost two-thirds of drowsy-driving crashes, despite representing only about one-fourth of licensed drivers. ... Horne and Reyner (1995a) suggest that a combination of having more of the chronic and acute risk factors and frequently being on the roads during nighttime hours (greater exposure) may explain the greater incidence of drowsiness-related crashes in youth. ... The subgroup at greatest risk comprised the brightest, most energetic, hardest working teens.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Those who try to fit the most into a 24 hour day are the least likely to get to bed early and leave enough time tosleep.

When was the last time you heard friends or classmates brag about how little sleep they got the night before? Whether it is a result of work, school, social plans, watching TV, or a result of being pulled in many different directions, the bottom line is that many teens are not getting as much sleep as they need.

"'Lack of sleep needs to stop being regarded as a badge of honour and seen for the serious hazard that it actually is.'"

You may have heard others say that they are too busy to sleep. You may have even thought this yourself. Have ever heard someone say that they are so busy that they have to be sure to get to bed early and get enough sleep?

Questions of the Week:
How much sleep do you need each night to function at your best? How do you know? Is it possible to do all that you want on a given day and still get enough sleep? For nights when you don't get enough sleep, what is it that you are typically choosing to do rather than sleep? What changes would you need to make in order to get enough sleep? How do you think you would function differently on any given busy day if you had more sleep? If you had less sleep?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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