Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Torture Of Sleep Deprivation

The report that high school kids are suffering from a lack of sleep has identified a number of issues. First, and most obviously, the research done by Professor Tim Olds, tells us that sleep deprived students perform less well at their school work. That might seem like common sense, but the study provides a clear picture of the extent of the impact. Second, and more intriguingly, the lack of sleep has been connected to the increase in child obesity. Those who sleep less, in general weigh more. Third, and of deeper concern, is the impact on mental wellbeing. Sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to depression, anxiety, and susceptibility to physical illness.

All of these matters are cause for serious concern, and deserve to be examined. I wonder though just why it is that teenagers are not getting enough sleep. Are the demands placed upon them too great? Is there too much homework? Or are there other factors? Professor Olds points out that most children get up at around 7:00am. They have to in order to get to school on time. In order to get nine hours sleep they would have to go to bed around 10:00pm. So what’s keeping the kids up at night?

According to the study, it’s not television. Instead, those who sleep less are spending more time socializing, or listening to music. Now that has to be a clue. There might well be plenty of time to perform all the schoolwork and other duties, but time to unwind is also an issue. For all of us, not just teenagers, it’s important to have a work/life balance that gives us the opportunity to recharge the batteries.

At the same time, let’s not forget that school only runs from 9:00am till 3:00pm, for about 40 weeks of the year. Let’s ask this question: if the teenagers are battling to get enough sleep under those circumstances, what does that tell us about the demands placed on adults who are required to work long hours under stressful conditions to make ends meet? Sure, adults only need eight hours sleep compared to the kids nine or ten, but we have to work 48 weeks of the year! While many workers are employed under a 37 hour week, other studies have indicated that 31% of the Australian workforce is working 48 hours a week or more in the unceasing effort to get ahead.

While there might be a case to reconsider the workload on high school students, what about the stress and pressure their parents are forced to handle? If obesity, depression, anxiety, and poor performance are linked to a lack of sleep, is it any wonder that so many adult Australians are suffering from those afflictions? It’s not just the students who are suffering, but a significant number of the workforce as well.

Sleep deprivation is recognized by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as a form of torture and its effects can be serious, so we owe it to ourselves to sleep on it.

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