Sleep deprivation is a serious issue

There is currently an epidemic sweeping our country. No, I’m not talking about the flu. I’m not talking about the incomprehensible craze centered on a book that deals with 50 shades of a color that is already a shade. I’m not even talking about dubstep, which is, for those of you who don’t know, a music genre that sounds like a car rhythmically malfunctioning.Joel Stein

I’m talking about sleep deprivation, and it probably affects you. “Not me,” you say. “I get plenty of sleep.” Sure, sometimes you forget things, like your right shoe or your pants, but that’s normal. Everyone forgets things, right? You’re not sleep deprived.

Unfortunately, I’ve got some shocking news: You probably are. Sleep deprivation impacts one out of every three adults and three out of every one teens. And, while not getting enough sleep seems like it should be a smaller issue than Greg Oden’s knee, it’s actually a serious concern.

As a teen, I can attest that adolescents everywhere get so little sleep that they actually spend more time talking about needing sleep than sleeping. Why? Well, let’s blame the media, which discourages teens from sleeping together to “decrease” “teen” “pregnancy” “rates.” If you couldn’t tell by the number of times I just used quotation marks, that’s clearly a ludicrous claim.

Do you see any link at all between falling asleep next to a bunch of friends and getting pregnant? If so, you should probably see a doctor, because that’s not normal.

The media, however, isn’t the only culprit. No, the primary cause of teen sleep deprivation is school. See, melatonin, a hormone, regulates your internal clock. For teens, it means we naturally won’t get tired until 11 p.m., and we won’t want to wake up until 8 a.m., five days later. School, however, starts way before then, meaning we have to get up before the roosters do — and I’m talking about the roosters in Australia.

The other way school causes sleep deprivation is more obvious: homework. We’re not mature enough to handle homework without leaving it until the last minute, so why give us any? I bet that if we had less homework, we’d get more sleep. (If any teachers want to take me up on that bet, let me know.)

On average, U.S. teens need nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep. Eight percent of them are getting that, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The teens who are not getting enough Zs are at an increased risk for depression, obesity, anxiety disorders, chronic fatigue, obese depression, chronic disorders and the anxiety associated with the depressing reality of being obese.

The only way that could possibly be worse is if a lack of sleep also led to insomnia. And if you’re thinking, “Obesity? How does sleeping solve obesity?” Then I’ve got one word for you: sleepwalking.

But if you still aren’t convinced that sleep is important, let’s examine New York City. Yes, “The City That Never Sleeps” has more homeless people, more murders and more Justin Bieber concerts than the entire state of Alaska, where you hibernate all winter. This isn’t an official study, but I think these trends speak for themselves.

Furthermore, without sleep, you simply aren’t thinking. Drowsy driving causes 100,000 police-reported car crashes annually, which result in 1,550 deaths, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show. Considering that most teens are still learning to drive, and can’t yet tell the difference between speed bumps and jump ramps, that’s a pretty scary combination. (Hint for teens: Apparently there are no jump ramps. I’m just as disappointed as you.)

All these statistics are frightening. Heck, they’re almost as bad as the recent horror movie about eco-terrorists; I think it was called “The Lorax.” Thankfully, remedies do exist.

One possible solution is to move school start times back an hour, allowing teens to sleep in. Critics say, however, that this would shatter our established societal routines and lead to the eventual creation of a communist fundamentalist police state under Anthony Weiner. They might be right, but at least you’ll have more sleep.

Well, actually, critics also say that this won’t make a difference, because teens will just stay up even later than they used to. Here’s what I say to that: Yeah, they’re probably right. But at one high school in Minnesota, moving school start times from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. saw a several-hundred-point increase in the SAT scores of the top 10 percent of students. (And, you know what I say: College Board is always right, save in love and war.)

While the most viable long-term solution to sleep deprivation in teens definitely includes a restructuring of the homework-industrial complex, delaying school start times is a more feasible short-term solution. Heck, even if it isn’t, it sure sounds pretty good — or, at least, better than that new dubstep song, titled “W-w-w-w-wzoooopzooopzoop Brbrbrb-eee.”

Joel Kwartler writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact him, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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