Take a look at the average Bedford High School student’s schedule. Perhaps it goes something like this: school, sports, dinner, followed by a night of homework. Add to the mix: travel sports, clubs, friends, and family obligations. It’s no wonder that people often dismiss the importance of a good night’s sleep. Busy bees end up sleep deprived throughout the week, using up some of their precious free time over the weekend to catch up on their Z’s. Who can blame them, tight schedules allow no time for a deep slumber.
According to The Sleep Foundation, sleep enables your vascular system to rest, regulates your blood sugar, strengthens your immune system, and improves your overall physical and mental wellness. They say, “sleep helps individuals learn new information and form memories. Quality sleep leads to improved concentration and better problem-solving and decision-making skills.” Ironically, teens are often forced to sacrifice sleep for important assignments or late-night study sessions. While it may be bold to say, perhaps a well deserved extra hour of sleep should replace your last round of Quizlet flashcards. Bedtime is extremely important to a student’s wellbeing, especially now that we’ve hit an age that this time is often up to us. Nationwide Children’s Hospital says the average teen gets about 7 hours of sleep per night, while the CDC recommendation is 8-10 hours. This fact is hardly astonishing, seeing that 93% of high schools in the United States start by 8:30 in the morning, with our own beginning at 7:50 AM. Students are expected to prepare for these strict school starts with an early bedtime. But let’s be real, that’s not happening for the majority of high schoolers. Instead, they rely on weekend sleepathons. However, sleeping past noon on weekends messes with your body’s internal clock. Harvard Health Publishing says, “by sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday, your teen is suffering from the equivalent of a five-hour jet lag when it’s time to get up on Monday morning. The alarm clock may be saying 6:00 am, but his or her inner clock is reading 1:00 am.” This shifted internal clock can cause the feeling of jet lag or even drunkenness. CDC says that staying awake for 24 hours is like having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. To put that number into context, the U.S. drunk driving level is 0.08 percent. Maintaining a plentiful, and above all consistent, sleep cycle can reduce unhealthy side effects and possibly even give your grades a boost.
The idea of sleep is a bit odd when you think about it; a long period of voluntary unconsciousness to recharge every night. What happens to your body during that time? The Sleep Foundation explains that your body repeatedly goes through four stages of sleep each night. In the first of two light sleep stages, your brain slows down and your breathing is regular. In the second stage of light sleep, your heart rate and body temperature decrease. In stage three, the deep sleep stage, your brain waves are at their slowest as your body repairs itself. The last and most well known stage is called REM sleep, which stands for ‘rapid eye movement.’ As the name suggests, your eyes move rapidly and your heart rate rises.
Interestingly, most dreams (and nightmares) take place during REM sleep, but parasomnias (unwanted behavior during sleep), such as sleepwalking and night terrors, occur during the third phase of sleep. Sleepwalking, known formally as somnambulism, is when someone performs abnormal actions during their sleep. Commonly, people will get up and walk around their home, or engage in routine actions, such as getting ready for school. In more rare scenarios, sleepwalking can be dangerous to the person and their peers (e.g., attempting to drive a car). The Sleep Foundation says that 29% of kids between ages 2 and 13 experience sleepwalking. If you suspect that someone in your home may be sleepwalking, glassy eyes and a blank look are good indicators. It is best to gently guide them back to bed and away from any potential dangers. Much of the time, the sleepwalker may not remember the episode the next morning. This also applies to other parasomnias, like night terrors, in which someone begins screaming or flailing in their sleep, often sitting up. Though sleepwalking and night terrors are interesting, the most fascinating of the parasomnias may be sleep paralysis. The Sleep Foundation’s staff writer Eric Suni writes: “Sleep paralysis is a condition identified by a brief loss of muscle control, known as atonia, that happens just after falling asleep or waking up. In addition to atonia, people often experience hallucinations during episodes of sleep paralysis.” In plain english, sleep paralysis is a feeling in which one wakes up (they’re half asleep, really), often with the feeling of an intruder nearby, without being able to move. The average length of these episodes is about six to seven minutes. Although sleep paralysis, night terrors, and sleepwalking can be alarming, they are pretty normal behaviors as long as they remain infrequent and do not cause harm. A startling link between these disorders is that they can be caused by sleep deprivation. Prioritizing consistent sleep patterns can help to improve the quality of your slumbers as well as your brain function throughout the day.
Sleep is fascinating, and its inner workings and oddities are sure to be studied in depth for years to come. Sleep is a time to relax and relieve all the stress of a long day, and to let your body reset. While it may feel as if an extra episode of your favorite TV show late at night is harmless, it can hinder next-day performance. Sleep should be a priority in households across the world. Turning off the light earlier will help to increase brain function and decrease daytime sleepiness, improving one’s overall quality of life.