Sleep deprivation

Write an essay discussing the issue, the impact it has on adolescents and the wider society and give your opinion regarding the topic. Sleep deprivation in teenagers is an increasingly significant concern of adolescent health with multiple studies identifying them as the most sleep-deprived group in society today. This is directly associated with the continued growth of social commitments and expectations that has reached unrealistic levels from the high demands during the school term.

Such include keeping up with homework, extra-curricula activities, family, part-time work, and other school and social demands that place teenagers most at risk of insufficient sleep and disrupted sleep patterns. Adolescents need more sleep than they are usually able to obtain during term time and suffer those detrimental effects on mood and daytime functioning as a result of accumulating sleep deficits. Speculations have even been made to link depression to sleep deprivation. Increasing the risk of adolescent traffic accidents, injuries and behavioural and emotional problems, the wider society is also extensively affected by this health issue. Yet, sleep deprivation in today’s teenagers is surprisingly a most neglected area of adolescent health.

During the school term, a majority of Australian adolescents ‘average more than an hour less sleep on weeknights than during holidays’, as a result of unrealistically high social and educational demands. For teenagers from 13 to 18 years of age, an average of 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night is essential for physical and psychological refreshment; the biological need for sleep increases for adolescents, particularly in puberty. It is of concern, however, that a 2003 Victorian study has found 26% of students reported only having 61/2 hours of sleep or less, with the average sleep time during the school term being 7 hours 55 minutes.

The widespread issue of sleep deprivation in teenagers can be related to lifestyle factors – the early school hours and school or extra curricular activities. The high demands do not allow for the extra sleeping hours adolescents need in the morning since most teenagers are ‘evening’ types. That is, they prefer to go to bed later and sleep in until later. This is consonant with the physical and hormonal changes that take place in adolescence, which means there can be a natural time shift in sleeping and waking patterns; changes in circadian rhythm. The problems of insufficient sleep are worse for ‘evening’ style students, receiving less total sleep on weeknights and oversleep ‘more on weekends, trying to make up for their greater sleep debts’.

Another US research has concluded that increasingly later bedtimes can be related to self-imposed or behavioural sleep restrictions that comprise more than 50% of cases. Increased school and social commitments (eg. talking on the phone, watching television and playing computer games), part-time work, peer pressure and increased desire for independence become major causes of sleep deprivation.

Other causes of accumulating sleep deficits common to teenagers may include disruptive habits, such as drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes close to bedtime that stimulates the nervous system and makes them less likely to sleep. Also, some adolescents who suffer socially may lie in bed worrying, rather than relaxing and may lead to erratic sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation has worsened in teenagers in recent years, as a result of technology that continually disrupts their sleeping environment. Recently, the US National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America Poll found that adolescents with four or more electronic devices (such as, televisions, computers, phones or music players) are much more likely to obtain an insufficient amount of sleep at night.

Sleep deprivation has a number of adverse effects on the majority of adolescents, and are marked by downturns in both daytime mood and performance. ‘Irritability, moodiness and low tolerance for frustration are the most frequently described symptoms in sleep-deprived adolescents.’ However, in some situations where sleep deprivation becomes a regular pattern, teenagers are more likely to feel isolated and have a greater risk of being aggressive, argumentative and impulsive. Not only does there appear to be greater variability in emotional states following sleep loss, but there also appears to be less control over emotional responses in adolescents.

Sleepiness is also associated with brief mental lapses or ‘microsleeps’, a tendency that has marked effects on learning. A recent research at Swinburne University in Melbourne has ‘linked shorter sleep times with lower school grades, daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and attending in class.’ The Australian research also reported worse problems for the majority of adolescences that are ‘evening’ types; having more sleeping problems (eg. irregular sleep, sleep apnea and insomnia) and increased vulnerability to low moods, higher levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, sleep deprivation can increase risks of accidents because of poorer judgement and shortened attention span. Lack of sleep can clearly have dramatic effects on an individual’s quality of life.

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