photo by Claire Wever

Abby Christensen, news editor

The first thing I noticed were his eyes. His upper eyelids drooped, and he had bags underneath them. His voice was quiet and monotone, sounding faintly uninterested. He said the interview itself was difficult because he had trouble staying on topic and would forget what he was going to say. Zack Curtis has insomnia, receiving five hours of sleep at most.

Thirty percent of people suffer from insomnia, defined as a chronic inability to obtain sufficient sleep. More than 80 percent of adolescents report not receiving enough sleep on school nights, according to the Herald Tribune’s article, “There are risks for teenagers sleeping less than 8 hours.” These risks include high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and obesity, as well as a number of behavioral disorders.
Amanda Drewell swims, pole vaults and plays multiple instruments. She also is a leader for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a hockey cheerleader. A typical day for her involves arriving home at 8:30 p.m. after her activities. She then eats dinner and usually starts homework around 9:30-10:00 p.m. She said she’s up past midnight nearly every night, receiving around six hours of sleep on average. Although a normal night for her is at least three hours less than the recommended amount of sleep, she said she has little trouble most days. She really only notices changes when she receives four to five hours of sleep, which happens around once a month.

“If I really haven’t gotten much sleep it causes me to struggle on tests,” Drewell, junior, said. “Trying to think and recall information gets difficult, but on average I’m usually okay. I’ve just gotten used to it.”

Matthew Uhles, Clayton Sleep Institute sleep specialist, said when someone receives less than five hours of sleep, their brain functions like it would if they had a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 percent (about five beers or glasses of wine). They face impaired thought and judgement, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, poor motor skills and impaired reaction time. When students drive to school, take tests and play sports on this amount of sleep, they’re performing as if they were drunk he said.

According to Uhles, long-term effects from sleep deprivation could affect the immune system, and put people more at risk for heart disease, lung disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimers. It also ages people prematurely, harms the metabolism and can stunt growth.
Uhles also said a lack of sleep could hurt the brain’s ability to learn. While Drewell stays up late some nights to study, her method proves ineffective according to Uhles. Uhles said when people do not receive enough sleep, the stage of sleep that stores thoughts learned during the day to long-term memory does not occur. Therefore, Drewel would not remember what she studied that night.

“We need to work smarter and not harder, and sleep is one of those things that allows us to do that,” Uhles said. “This [lack of sleep] is very much a chronic problem.”

Uhles said he doesn’t see this problem getting better soon. In fact, he predicts it to become worse, because parents stay up late as well, setting a poor example for their children. He sees a possible solution with schools. Uhles said teenagers cannot receive enough sleep and still get up early for school in the morning. In order to do so, students would have to go to bed at 8-8:30 p.m. To combat this, Uhles proposes a later start time for schools, and he said many schools are implementing this already.

Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Missouri just changed their school start time to 9 a.m. after a student petitioned the school board against an earlier start time. Since then, grades and test scores have improved for the school he said. He encourages students to try and make these changes happen, because with improved sleep comes improved academic performance, moral and health.

“Your brains don’t wake up until 9 or 10 in the morning,” Uhles said. “For the average teen, [a later start time] is a pretty good solution.”