The Importance of Sleep: A Look Into the Sleep Schedules of Teenagers

By: Magdalena Rogers

Sleep is a basic necessity the body needs to function. The benefits of getting enough sleep range from simply having enough energy for the day to fighting off diseases. So, why is something that is so important, so lacking in the lives of most teenagers? High school aged teenagers tend to deal with hectic schedules, filled with sports, music, AP classes, homework, friends, clubs, relationships, and so much more. It can be difficult to create a healthy sleep schedule while juggling the challenges of life. However, a healthy sleep schedule is what prepares our bodies and minds to deal with these challenges.

Why is sleep so important? First, let’s get one thing straight: teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. When we go to sleep, we aren’t just closing our eyes and turning off like a computer for nine hours; our bodies are going through complex cycles that refresh our minds for the next day. We can split this cycle into four stages: stage 1 NREM, stage 2 NREM, stage 3 NREM, and REM. 

During stage 1, our body transitions from being awake to being asleep. Our body slows down, and our muscles relax. This period of light sleep lasts only a few minutes. Stage 2 is where we fall into a deep sleep, where our muscles continue to relax, and our brain waves and body continue to slow down.. The time spent in this deep sleep is the longest of the four stages, between 10 minutes and an hour. Our third stage is the most critical to restoring our mind and body. During this period, we process our memories and experiences from the day, while also releasing hormones that repair our bodies. The final stage in our sleep cycle is REM sleep. During REM sleep, our heart rate and breathing starts to speed up again, and we do most of our intense dreaming during this period. Overall, the combined amount of sleep you get during a cycle is between 90-120 minutes, and as the night progresses, the cycle repeats. To get the best sleep, plan your wake up time at the end of a cycle.

So, now that we’ve gone over how sleep works, let’s talk about actually fitting that sleep into your daily routine. Seems simple enough, right? Well, not really. Working a solid nine hours of sleep into a busy schedule can be challenging. Hamden High School’s first period starts at 7:31AM, so, depending on your school transportation, most students probably wake up around 6:00AM every day. Doing some simple math, for a student to get 9 hours of sleep, they would have to be asleep by 9:00PM, and in bed earlier than that. So, not impossible, but not easy. In order to make this ideal sleep schedule a reality, you have to prioritize your sleep over other activities, which most students don’t (or can’t) do.

In an effort to find out more information about the sleep schedules of teenagers, I surveyed ten high school students and asked questions about their sleep schedules. Five of the students said they got between 5-6 hours of sleep, and the other five said they got between 7-8 hours of sleep. When asked what caused them to get less than 8 hours of sleep, the answers were evenly split among homework, sports, and, of course, the cell phone. Half said they had consistent sleep schedules; the other half did not. Finally, all ten students surveyed said that the school start and/or bus times negatively impacted their sleep schedules. 

Some students have their sleep schedules under control; however, most don’t. Sleep is beyond important for the overall health of students, mentally, and physically. You can’t expect a student to do well in school and be their best self if they’re sleep deprived. It raises the question: should schools be doing more to make sure students are getting enough sleep? 

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