Sleeping isn't for the lazy Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Are your grades not where you'd like them to be? Are you unhappy with your social life? Tired of being tired?

You're not alone. Teens everywhere muddle through their school days in exhausted hazes, staying up late to study and to hang out with friends, nodding off in math class, and downing caffeinated drinks from the cafeteria at lunch.

While pushing through the yawning molasses of exhaustion sometimes feels like the normal way of doing things in school, sleep deprivation is actually a major problem for teens, according to a new study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley's Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic.

Researchers there found that, left untreated, lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on teens' social lives, academic performance, and health.

The study says that nearly half of the teens surveyed have trouble staying awake in class; it ties a lack of sleep to lower grades and a higher incidence of what the survey calls "emotional distress," which includes unhappiness, irritability, and plain bad moods.

It makes sense. After all, a person who doesn't get enough sleep can be cranky and unpleasant in the morning. I know that if I don't get enough sleep, I lose my patience quickly. I snap at friends and co-workers about things that wouldn't register on my annoyance meter if I weren't overly tired.

I find it harder to remember ordinary things -- what I needed to tell someone or where I parked my car. Remembering important things I hear in meetings is a no-go because I'm dozing off to dreamland, not listening properly.

Teens need sleep to perform essential functions. During sleep, your brain transfers all of the information you learned during the day from short-term memory to long-term memory. This is why you can pull an all-nighter studying for a test and still feel like you don't remember a thing during the test.

Getting enough sleep helps heal you if you're sick or injured, and it even has a positive effect on your emotions. Can you become more popular because you get enough sleep? Sure. You'll be a far more pleasant person to be around. Well-rested people see the world in a better light and can often judge situations better than the sleep-deprived.

Ask yourself if you are overscheduled, if you are watching too much TV or playing too many video games? Maybe you need to drop one of your sports or extracurricular activities to get homework done in time? Put your energy and time where it is most needed.

Don't overmedicate with caffeine and energy drinks, especially in the afternoon. They'll give you an extra boost for a while, but is that worth counting sheep for hours at night instead of drifting off to dreamland?

Put down your digital devices and don't check them for at least a half-hour before bedtime. It's tough to be without them, but science shows that peering at a super-bright smartphone or computer screen before bed can trick your brain into thinking that it's the middle of the day and that it needs to be awake.

Be smarter. Be happier. Be better at sleep.

Karen Dietlein Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..