Teen Trade-Offs: Keep Sleep on the List

My sophomore year in high school, a guidance counselor came into my 7:40 a.m. English class to tell a bunch of groggy 16-year-olds how to be successful.

She started by sharing all the ways we can attain this so-called success. Before the clock struck 8 a.m., she stressed the importance of being involved in sports, clubs and the community while still taking challenging classes, reading on our own, developing good study habits and preparing for the SAT and ACT daily. On top of that extraordinary list of suggestions, she enthusiastically added that we should pursue our passions and unique hobbies. She then emphasized how important it was to take care of ourselves by eating a nutritious diet, being active and finally by getting plenty of sleep. I saw many kids roll their bloodshot eyes or chuckle at this last item.

Like many teenagers, I face a nightly battle to get enough sleep. Despite the well-meaning counselor’s pep talk, it’s often a trade-off between homework and catching a few extra Z’s, and this struggle isn’t limited solely to school nights. On weekends, it’s a battle between sleeping and having fun with friends or family. The truth is, sleep makes nearly all experiences sweeter and more enjoyable, even if an earlier night at home often seems like an unworthy, unimportant sacrifice. My attempts to pay attention in class often fail after a particularly late night, so consequently I miss out on useful information that would make my night of studying easier and faster.

As much as we like to tell ourselves otherwise, sleep is not negotiable. It is not a trade to be made. Walking through the halls of my high school, I’ve heard many kids proudly share how they barely slept the previous night or how they were very sleepy on the drive to school. However, drowsy driving is not a joke, and sleep deprivation is nothing to be proud of! There is no breathalyzer for drowsy driving, and there continue to be many drowsy driving-related accidents. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers ages 16–24 are 80 percent more likely to be in a drowsy driving accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 849 drowsy driving fatalities in 2014, and an estimated average of 83,000 crashes and 37,000 injuries each year in the United States between 2005 and 2009. The sheer numbers stress the importance for healthy sleep habits.

Teenagers are known for doing crazy, reckless things. However, lack of sleep is part of the problem. A recent study from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that insufficient sleep in high school students led to harmful consequences, including a 29 percent higher car crash rate, detrimental moods, increased risk taking and impaired academics. Those who don’t get enough sleep put themselves in greater danger of car accidents such as driving off-road, which can be a sign of drowsy driving as well as a sign of drunk driving. If there’s a possibility of such serious ramifications of not getting enough sleep, what can be changed in order to get enough sleep?

The trade-off remains between checking everything off the counselor’s list and getting sufficient sleep. However, siding with sleep should take precedence in order to avoid more dire consequences.