Article at a Glance

  • Students who don’t get enough sleep don’t perform as well and are more prone to symptoms of depression.
  • Sleep deprivation can impair your driving as much as driving intoxicated.
  • We need to change how we perceive sleep and help make it more of a priority in schools and at home.

At every stage of life our society is finding more ways to crowd out sleep. Whether it is busy family schedules that interfere with naps and bedtimes, pressure to pull all-nighters as high school and college students, or struggling to squeeze in more work time as adults. There is a lot of pressure to do it all and to do it well. As a result, people are trying to make it by on less and less sleep.

But this comes at a cost. Not getting enough sleep is bad for our health, performance, and public safety. Sleep is not a luxury or something that can be sacrificed; it is a necessity.

The pressure to sacrifice sleep is especially strong among high school and college students. Unfortunately it comes at a time when they especially need their sleep. High school and college is an important time where students are developing important skills, receiving training for future careers, and making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. It is not a good time to be drowsy. But if our children are going to get the sleep they need, we need to make some changes to how we perceive sleep.

The Facts

  • Not getting enough sleep impairs our ability to judge how well we are functioning. Which means that we may be too tired to realize just how badly we are doing.
  • Inconsistent schedules can make it hard to develop good sleep habits. School, studying, extracurriculars, social demands, and work schedules can make it hard to develop a consistent sleep pattern.
  • Not getting enough sleep was found to have the same impact on a student’s college GPA as binge drinking or marijuana use.
  • Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can negatively impact things like alertness, attentions spans, and memory.
  • Sleep is an important part of learning that allows us to process what we have learned. So staying up all night to study for a test could actually be counter-productive.
  • Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your GPA.
  • A lack of sleep can impair your ability to drive. Going 24 hours or more without sleeping impacts your driving more than drunk driving. Even more dangerous is when you mix sleep deprivation with even just a little alcohol.
  • Not getting enough sleep or irregular sleep schedules can make symptoms of depression worse.
  • In teenagers, an increase in sleep has been shown to improve mood.

The Solutions

  • You are never too old for naps. Even a short nap can improve your memory.
  • Adjust your schedule to allow for a consistent sleep pattern so that you are waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunchtime.
  • Avoid stimulating activities before bed.
  • Avoid screen time an hour before bed (computer screens, mobile devices, and TV). Exposure to the blue light from the screen can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Create a quiet sleep environment.
  • Do not sleep with your mobile phone in the same room. Calls and notifications not only disrupt your sleep, but access to online content can be a tempting distraction from going to bed.
  • Teens and young adults have a delayed circadian preference, meaning they have a natural tendency to get sleepy later at night and to be less wakeful early in the morning. Schools that have switched to a later start time have noticed an increase in how much their students sleep, less daytime drowsiness, an upturn in students’ moods, and improved attention and performance.
  • Talk to your children about how sleep works and what constitutes a healthy “sleep hygiene.”
  • Make sure that your teenager or college student is not driving late at night or long distances when tired. College students often want to get home as fast as they can after finals, but it is much safer for them to get some rest first.


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Changing our sleep culture

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