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Busy lifestyles put many teens at high risk for sleep deprivation. Here's why that's a bad thing

It’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and you’ve just gotten home from practice. You have two hours of homework
plus a paper to finish, which will take another hour, and you haven’t eaten dinner yet.

Your parents have been asking you to clean your room all week and your coach just gave you a new
drill to work on. You glance at the clock and try to work out when all of this is going to get done.

Either way, your alarm is going to go off at 6 a.m., and you’ll have to get up,
unless you want to miss the bus. What do you sacrifice?

For too many teenagers, the answer is sleep. Whether it’s late sports practices or dance rehearsals, a job, a social life or a project’s looming due date – teens have a lot to juggle. And healthy sleep is often the first thing they give up.

In an online survey of high school students at Nichols School, 71 percent of teenagers said they received seven hours of sleep or less per night.

According to Sandra Block, medical director of The Buffalo Medical Group’s Adult and Pediatric Sleep Center, teens should be getting eight to nine hours of sleep daily. That’s only a couple hours more than Nichols’ students claimed to get. So, how much does losing those few hours of sleep really affect the body?

More than you might think, Block says. We’re all familiar with feeling groggy after a late night, but sleep loss can be much more dire than heavy eyelids. Depriving yourself of sleep, even if it’s only a few hours, adds up.

Repeated sleep loss, Block says, can affect not only your mood and academic performance, but it decreases your memory consolidation and body restoration. It also dramatically increases your susceptibility to both long- and short-term illnesses.

Why then, if sleep deprivation is so harmful, is it so common? While there is a lack of education on the topic, this probably isn’t the first time you’re being warned of the side effects of sleep loss. In fact, the same survey showed the majority of teens are somewhat to very concerned about their sleep habits.

Yet, teens don’t feel empowered to make a change. 74 percent of kids expressed that getting nine hours of sleep would be "difficult to impossible" for them, while 25 percent said it would be manageable only if they gave up parts of their lifestyle.

"It’s a lower (priority) …We want to make sure we get everything else done first," says Lauren Smith, a senior at Orchard Park High School. "Sleep is what we do once we’ve gotten everything we want to do done."

Being an AP student, a member of the varsity swim team and the president of Model UN, Lauren, who says she sleeps for five or six hours on weekdays, is a poster child for the normalization of sleep deprivation. With her busy lifestyle, losing sleep simply feels like the only option.

It’s not that she’s unaware. "I mean, I definitely know about (sleep loss), I’ve been in health class … It’s bad, and it can be detrimental," Lauren says. "But, I mean, I gotta get stuff done."

Lauren is not alone in thinking this way. Students, teachers and parents alike have fallen susceptible to the misconception that sleep is optional, or unimportant.

As teens, the decisions we make now about sleep are especially significant.

Soda Kuczkowski, owner of Start With Sleep, an integrated sleep resource center and shop on Hertel Avenue and an active promoter of healthy sleep habits, explains why developing healthy sleep habits during the teenage years is so critical.

"It really sets the course for how (teenagers’) relationships with sleep will be as they become adults," she says.

Between working around Buffalo and founding Start With Sleep, Kuczkowski has taken it upon herself to spread awareness about sleep to all age groups. And she does so with a refreshing viewpoint – instead of advising people to give up their lifestyles, she works on integrating sleep into people’s lives in ways that it can coexist with their habits and choices.

"Health gets this stigma like, if I’m going to be healthy I have to give up everything I love – that’s not true," Kuczkowski says. "I’m all about creating healthy habits, not restrictions."

You can see that as soon as you walk into Start With Sleep. The shelves are lined with "tools" as Kuczkowski describes them, including blue light-blocking glasses, essential oils and the latest in sleep technology. The aim of these tools is to create a restful environment without asking you to give up your responsibilities or things you love.

That essay you just have to write? You don’t have to put away the laptop – slip on a pair of blue-blocking glasses and carry on stress-free.

To develop a healthy relationship with sleep, it’s crucial be aware and open-minded.

"In creating a positive relationship will sleep, the first step is perception," Kuczkowski says. For our everyday lives and our long-term health, it’s time to give sleep the attention it deserves.

Caroline Hurley is a sophomore at Nichols School.


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