Looking back on my years at Lake Oswego High School, I realize that many of my high school memories blend together as a string of sleepy events, beginning everyday with the piercing screech of my alarm at 6:30 a.m. I would go through the motions of the morning, sleepwalking downstairs to my requisite plate of Eggos, and hopping on the bus with the other kids. From there, I soldiered on through 90-minute classes, which were, at times, difficult to stay awake in, physically-exhausting cross country drills and a sleepy drive home through the heavily enforced speed zone of downtown LO.
Since enrolling myself in a course titled 'Sleep and Dreams,' I've come to realize what a serious injustice I had been doing to myself. This course, which is taught at Stanford University by sleep mogul Dr. William Dement and attracts 600 students each year, has really opened my eyes to the significance of sleep. One of the most important topics to be discussed has been sleep debt. As I've learned, people accumulate sleep debt when they sleep less than their daily requirement on any given day. Interestingly, this sleep debt does not seem to diminish over time and instead lingers indefinitely. It is for this reason that sleeping until dinner on the weekend may not be enough to counteract that week's sleep debt. As a person's sleep debt increases, the person's ability to concentrate, perform well in athletics and stay motivated all decline. Dr. Dement and other noteworthy sleep medicine experts suggest in their seminal investigation titled 'Catastrophes, Sleep, and Public Policy: Consensus Report' that both countless car accidents and some of the world's greatest catastrophes, like the Chernobyl meltdown and the Challenger crash, can be directly attributed to harrowing sleep debts.
Still, it can be difficult to make sleep a priority with so many possible distractions at our fingertips (I, myself, have been guilty of foregoing sleep to have long instant messenger conversations). To make sleep a larger priority, it is first important to make sure that people know their own sleep needs. Every person requires a different number of hours of shut-eye, but that number normally falls between 8 and 9 hours. The official way to observe a person's sleep needs and sleep debt is to use the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), as created by Dr. Dement. The procedure is simple: make out a weekly log of what time you go to bed and how long it takes you to go to sleep. If you need more than 10 minutes to fall asleep on average, then your sleep debt is fairly minimal. If you consistently fall asleep within 5 minutes though, you are said to be in the 'twilight zone' and your sleep debt is significant. This isn't an exact test because of the amnesia everyone suffers immediately preceding sleep. An easier, but less formal, way of testing your sleep debt is to measure your propensity to take naps. If you find that you can fall asleep anywhere and any time, you are likely suffering from heavy sleep debt.
The single most important lesson to leave you with is to remain cognizant of your state of fatigue while driving. Essential to this is the phrase 'Drowsiness is Red Alert.' It means that any sign of drowsiness (e.g. yawning, heaviness of eyelids) is a sign that you are at risk to yourself and others and should pull off the road. Contrary to public opinion, rolling down a window or blaring music won't cut it if you're too tired to drive. Driving sleepy is no less dangerous than driving under the influence and with 87 percent of all sleeping accidents having at least one fatality (as noted in the sleep report), the risk of driving sleepy is too great to bear.
Alexander Brown, former student at Lake Oswego High School, is a resident of Portland.