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Kirsten Hoffman Writing and Rhetoric Research Paper

SLEEP DEPRIVATION People today are plagued by many problems; and sleep deprivation is often a silent stressor. Late bedtimes and early school classes create an environment that may lead students to a never ending sleep debt. It is simply not enough to try and sleep a few more hours on the weekends. Also, with so many easily accessible electronics, cell phone and laptop users are causing their internal clocks to tell their body it is daytime in the middle of the night. With so much publicity on the importance of sleep, why is sleep still not an important part of everyones lifestyle? Sleep deprivation is usually overlooked because people do not see it as a big threat to ones health. However, this may be dangerous. As members of a driven society, people overlook the importance of sleep due to the fact that they are constantly working, resulting in negative health effects, reduced safety, and increased use of pharmaceuticals. Parents set bedtimes to ensure that their children get enough sleep. As that child grows up, the bedtime is pushed back a little bit until the child is a young adult. Now this young adult is responsible for setting his or her own bedtime. What happens if the young adult decides that finishing school work or playing video games is more important than getting a full eight hours of sleep? Eventually all of the lost sleep will add up, and once that happens, it is an extremely difficult habit to break.

To understand how sleep patterns are disrupted, one must first understand how the body works while sleeping. Human bodies are complex and composed of many neurons, hormones, and chemicals that are constantly fighting against each other. The two systems that are constantly fight to keep someone awake or alternately, put him or her asleep are called the circadian arousal system and the homeostatic sleep drive (Medina 155). While someone is awake, the circadian arousal system is in control, and while they are asleep the homeostatic sleep drive is in control. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, says that sleep happens because the longer you are awake, the greater the possibility becomes that the circadian arousal system will eventually cede the field to its opponent (Medina 155). This means that the longer someone fights to stay awake, the more likely they are to crash and fall asleep. The same is true for the homeostatic sleep drive. The balance between the two systems is what allows humans to be able to wake up after sleeping. It also ensures that humans take care of their bodies by getting adequate amounts of sleep. The circadian arousal system leads to the circadian clock. Every organism has a circadian or biological clock that tells him or her when it is time to go to bed and when it is time to wake up. Circadian clocks mature as humans get older. After puberty, humans require more sleep and their clocks are more easily affected. Unfortunately, Sue Binkley states in her book, The Clockwork Sparrow, that [t]here is evidence that the disruption of the 24h-entrained circadian rhythms may be detrimental (Binkley 41-42). This is because human bodies are supposed to follow the sleep and wake times of the biological clock. When it is disrupted, the benefits of sleep are lost and it becomes harder to fall asleep at night. She goes on to say that in experiments using fruit flies, the flies that had disrupted circadian cycles, had shorter life spans. If this is the case, why do young adults

get the least amount of sleep? Having a shorter life span is not something for which most people intentionally strive. Sleep in general is extremely important. This is because it is something that our bodies do automatically. Humans have a natural instinct to sleep. If sleep were examined in the animal kingdom, one would observe that an animal is at extreme risk while asleep. This is because it would be extremely easy for a predator to attack a sleeping victim. There must be some evolutionary advantage of sleep if such risky measures are being taken to achieve it. While we no longer have to worry about animals attacking us in our sleep, there is still a chance of an emergency occurring throughout the night. Laura Sanders, author of Sleeplessness Agitates the Brain, explains that when we are awake the brain accumulates connections between nerve cells as new things are learned (Sanders np). Furthermore, our brains take in a lot of information in one day. All of this information is significantly more than we actually need to remember. The brain takes care of the surplus of information by sweep(ing) the brain of extraneous clutter, leaving behind only the most important connections (Sanders np). This is why sleep is so essential. It helps keep the brain from reaching an overload of information. In a way, it is making a summary of everything that happened that day. The brain needs time to reflect and pick out the most valuable pieces and store them for later use. Even if someone was trying to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, our society is not set up to promote such sleep patterns. Stores are open for twenty-four hours per day and technology is always available. If someone has a craving for potato chips at three in the morning, all they have to do is drive to a local supermarket or drug store, several of which never close, and pick them up. Debra L. Gordon, author of Seven Days to a Perfect

Nights Sleep, writes [t]he global economy has many of us working unusual hours: when its midnight here, the stock markets are already in full swing in Japan (Gordon 2). If todays society is not set up to promote healthy amounts of sleep, then people will never be able to erase their sleep debt. Society is so obsessed with being constantly plugged in that technology is also a huge distraction. Before the ages of laptops and iPhones, people had to physically sit in front of a computer at a desk. Unless the desk was in their bedroom, people did not have the luxury of being on the Internet while trying to fall asleep. Today, however, people everywhere are connected to the Internet. From Facebook to Twitter, social media sites permit us to be awake and plugged in all of the time. Gordon says four out of ten adults dont sleep because theyre doing things such as watching Survivor or bidding on eBay (Gordon 2). If people know the importance of a good nights sleep, why are they staying awake to surf the web? People like to feel like they belong to a group, and social media sites make it easier for people to feel included. Unfortunately, the feeling of being included is taking away from other important aspects of life. These distractions prevent people form achieving one of the most important functions of the human body. Another reason people can so easily avoid sleep is the fact that new pharmaceuticals have been introduced to the medicine world. Over time, if someone is not getting enough sleep, they may develop insomnia, a condition where someone has a hard time falling asleep, or they may not be able to sleep at all. Fortunately, with sleeping pills and other sleep products, these people are able to get some rest. On the other hand, there are also new breakthroughs that help people stay awake. Rosalind D. Cartwright, author of The Twenty-Four Hour Mind, says we now see new stay awake pills

marketed to help keep us going even longer, to work more hours without experiencing a drop in the quality of our job performance (Cartwright 37). However, these new drugs are enabling people to skimp on sleep. Cartwright goes on to say for those who are healthy, the cost to our health of working longer hours by sleeping less is not worth the benefit (Cartwright 37). Sure, it might be nice to be able to stay up really late some nights, especially if there is an important deadline to meet, but it is not worth the loss of precious sleep. People should not have to sacrifice their well being in order to complete job tasks. Every once in awhile it is okay to stay up late working on a project, but every night simply is not healthy. Additionally, using sleep supplements should not become a regular occurrence. Some of the main victims of sleep deprivation are students. Students and teens work extremely hard to get all of their work done, which leads to late nights with school starting early the next morning. While there are many negative consequences of sleep deprivation including a weakened immune system and inability to concentrate, there are also consequences of falling asleep at the wrong time. This includes driving while tired. Many car crashes happen because the driver simply fell asleep behind the wheel and went into another lane or ran a red light. Fred Danner and Barbara Phillips, authors of Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes, conducted a study to assess how starting school at later times affected the number of car crashes. They surveyed thousands of students on their bed times, and they looked at the number of teen car crashes in that same community. Then, the start time of the local school was pushed back by just one hour the following year. The results of the data show that moving the school start time back resulted in meaningful increases in sleep time, an increase in the

percentage of students who got an adequate amount of sleep, and a decrease in catch-up sleep on weekends (Danner and Phillips 535). Most importantly, the amount of teen car crashes decreased, which shows that allowing teenagers to get another hour of sleep increased their ability to dive safely. Danner and Phillips explain that these findings are consistent with the idea that allowing adolescents to sleep more on school nights by delaying the start of school not only results in them sleeping more, but also may have a measurable, positive effect on their driving safety (Danner and Phillips 535). If steps can be taken to increase the safety of teenagers, then more schools should push back their start times in order to reduce the number of car accidents. One cause of this sleep debt is that standards for students have changed. In the past, a high school student could easily be named a valedictorian just by getting straight As. Today however, a high school student must get straight As in advanced placement courses to even have a chance of being considered a valedictorian. The admissions process for colleges has become even more strenuous than it was in the past. Additionally, if the student is an athlete, the time available to work on homework decreases due to attempting to balance school work and practices. Most students do not realize the harm that they are causing themselves by over-filling their schedules, so they are bringing it upon themselves unintentionally. Also, most people would assume that younger children need the most sleep because they are going through a time of rapid growth; however this is not the case. A study at Stanford University tested the reaction times of children of various ages after sleeping for ten hours per night. The study, talked about in Mary A. Carskadons article When Worlds Collide found that alertness declines in association with pubertal

development (Carskadon 349). This caused the experimenters to reach the conclusion that older teenagers may need more sleep than when they were younger (Carskadon 349). Unfortunately, todays teenagers are not making sleep a priority, so they are getting less sleep than when they were young children. These teens need to make it a priority to ensure that they are getting the required amount of sleep each night. Sleep is extremely important, and with all of the distractions keeping students and adults awake into the early hours, the hours of rest are being diminished quickly. Overall, society knows and recognizes the importance of a good nights sleep. Furthermore, nothing is being done to ensure that people are getting their required amount of sleep. With all of the negative consequences including increased rates of car crashes, sleep disorders, inability to concentrate, and a weakened immune system, more steps should be taken to increase the time people spend asleep. Sadly, the opposite is true. New advances in medicine keep people awake longer so they can get more done with the limited hours of the day. Additionally, the Internet and television distract people. Todays society is addicted to getting things done and being connected. Many would argue that the lack of sleep is worth being able to get more work done, or to simply get ahead. Being able to sleep less and get more done, allows us to keep up with our competitive society. This can be beneficial in the workplace by getting a raise, or even in a school setting by getting good grades. Sleeping less means that there are more hours in a day. More hours in a day means that people can accomplish more. However, the benefits are not worth the negative outcomes that follow sleep deprivation. The negative health effects include obesity, heart problems, depression, and fatigue. Eventually, all of these conditions will add up and potentially be lethal. Being sick and

missing work or school would only put someone behind. While a good effort was made to get ahead, the illness would have the opposite effect. In the end, the benefits do not outweigh the costs. If someone wants to remain competitive and ahead of the game, he or she should try to obtain as many of sleeps benefits as possible. Some solutions to preventing irregular sleep patterns include: putting technology away about an hour before bed, avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the afternoons, and taking short naps throughout the day if needed. Dont try and make up for lost sleep on the weekends, because it wont work. People in todays society are seriously hurting their physical well being by depriving their bodies of sleep. Sleep deprivation not only causes physical problems, but mental ones as well. While it is important that we keep up with an always-changing society, sleep should not become a sacrifice. We unintentionally keep ourselves from sleeping due to our love of social media, our drive to be ahead of the competition, and our newfound dependency on pharmaceuticals. Overall, the sleep deprivation will continue to add up and be the cause of our demise if we do not change our sleep habits. Something that seems so minor in our lives should not be so taken for granted.


Binkley, Sue. The Clockwork Sparrow: Time Clocks, and Calendars in Biological Organisms. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990. Print. Carskadon, Mary A. When Wolds Collide: Adolescent Need for Sleep Versus Societal Demands. The Phi Delta Kappan 80.5 (1999): 348-353. Print. Cartwright, Rosalind D. The Twenty-Four Hour Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print. Danner, Fred and Barbara Phillips. Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 4.6 (2008): 533-535. Print. Gordon, Debra L. Seven Days to a Perfect Nights Sleep. New York: St. Martins Press, 2003. Print. Medina, John. Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press, 2008. Print. Sanders, Laura. Sleeplessness Agitates the Brain. Science News 181.7 (2012): 16. HealthSource-Consumer Edition. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.