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If A Teenager Cannot Go To Bed

If a teenager cannot go to bed without checking his Facebook or if he cannot go one day without checking his twitter notifications, he is probably addicted to social networks. As the word addiction can come off too strong for this phenomenon, it is a reality. Social media addiction and more generally electronics addiction is starting to be a problem for younger and younger populations. More than seventy percent of teenagers between 12 and 17 years old spend one to two hours on social media per day, furthermore the internet accessibility is becoming a new norm pushing teenagers to spend even more time on their computer, phones or tablets . With all these hours spent on social media or playing video games, when do students work? Especially in today’s society succeeding at school to later get a degree is becoming increasingly important. The number of jobs available is less than the number of qualified people for this job, giving the degree a significant role. However sleep seems to be a key factor to respond to the never-ending apprehension of succeeding and having a good career. Sleep is a state that is characterized by changes in brain wave activity, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and other physiological functions. Sleep is essential to the good functioning of the brain and vital to our existence. Sleep is not a very well known subject, even though it represents one third of our life. Studies have shown however, that teenagers sleep less and less for various physiological and psychological factors. By looking at the importance of electronics in teenagers’ life, we can see how they influence sleep and memorization mechanisms, which have an impact on students’ academic performance.

First, we are going to look at the importance of sleep for academic performance and how electronics disrupt the sleep mechanisms. To optimize academic success and to sleep well, one needs to fully understand the different sleep mechanisms. If teenagers better understood those mechanisms, they could respond to the needs of their body. Every night we go from being awake to sleeping. Recently discovered, the histamine system is considered to be the most important mechanism to be awake. In a part of our brain, cellular bodies produce histamine and project it into our brain. As a consequence, sleep is provoked when the secretion of histamine stops. Histamine is an amino acid, which is a molecule secreted by certain cells of our body. It intervenes in different metabolic functions (immune, digestive, and allergic functions). It also intervenes to pass messages from one neuron to the other as a neurotransmitter. Basically, it gives the message to the body to stay awake. The succession of the sleep and awake states, are synchronized by the cycle day and night. We have an “internal clock” that regulates the rhythm of sleep or awakening depending on the hour. It is influenced by different factors such as the light, the warmth, the physical activity, and our meals. For that reason, it is not recommended to eat or exercise at an hour close to the one; one is going to go to sleep. These factors as well as the time of the day will influence the state of an individual and dictate if he or she has to go to sleep. Our “internal clock” is not regulated over twenty-four hours like we would think but over twenty-five . We also have a “timer” in our body, which controls daily the length of our sleep depending on the needs of different individuals. It also takes into account outside factors such as the sleep deficit or on the contrary if we sleep too much one night. Ying-Hui Fu, from the university of California in San Francisco, studied and discovered the influence of the gene DEC2 that would be responsible for how much an individual needs to sleep . However, every scientist agrees that a restorative sleep requires nine to ten hours of sleep for teenagers, and that sleep deprivation can have harmful consequences.

Sleep is not uniform. As a matter of fact it is constituted of a succession of four cycles; each cycle lasting approximately ninety minutes , . First of all every one goes through the phase of falling asleep. This phase is characterized by yawns and our eyes are a bit stingy. The brain slows down, the person becomes calmer, and our breathing starts to regulate itself. At this point, we are still conscious of outside noises. This period lasts fifteen minutes. The second phase is the light sleep. The individual experiences the relaxation of his muscles, but he is still very sensible to outside stimulus. We are not dreaming, only quick images come in our head, and we can be awoken at any moment. This phase lasts between ten to fifteen minutes. The next phase is the one to install the deep sleep, the brain activity is slowing down and the body is immobile. During the deep sleep phase, the individual does not react to outside stimulation and his immobility is almost complete. It is one of the key phases of sleeping because it is the phase where the body recovers and reconstructs itself. The body temperature is lower and everything is slower in the body. This phase helps our physical fatigue, and lasts approximately thirty minutes. The REM phase it the most intriguing one. It occupies twenty-five percent of our total sleep and it is also called the “dream phase” because eighty percent of our dreams occur during this phase. On one hand, our breathing is not regular, and our face is animated; however, it is during this phase that each individual is most deeply asleep. After this phase we all experience a quick awakening that leads to another cycle, or at the end of the night it is the time when we awake completely. To have a complete night each individual should go through at least five cycles.

The habits and the needs of sleep for teenagers a very different from the ones of the adults or of the children . Due to physiological changes teenagers have a different sleep pattern compared to adults. Teenagers have modified cycles because of important hormonal changes. Because hormones are what provoke sleep, a disruption in the hormonal cycle makes teenagers tend to go to sleep much later than the average. Teenagers’ brains are not sensible to light like adults’ brains, they are more sensible to the light later in the day and less sensible to it during the day. However at night when the light’s intensity diminishes, our brain produces a hormone called melatonin, which provokes sleep, and when the light of the day appears it, the level of melatonin diminishes. Consequently because teenagers are more sensible to light, their brains start producing melatonin much later during the day, so they will have to sleep later in the morning . The American psychologist Julie Boergers did a study in a high school, which would have proven that starting school later, would improve teenagers’ sleep and mood. “Chronic insufficient sleep is a growing concern among adolescents and is associated with a host of adverse health consequences. Early school start times may be an environmental contributor to this problem. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a delay in school start time on sleep patterns, sleepiness, mood, and health-related outcomes” . She made the school start only twenty-five minutes later than it usually does, and surprisingly she discovered that the number of students able to complete a full night of sleep went from eighteen to forty-four percent. The students were more focused, stopped consuming energized drink excessively, and were happier in general.

The addiction of teenagers to social media and other interactive means of communication, are also aggravating the delay phases. According to a new study our sleep patterns are being very deeply affected by lying in the blue glow of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices just before going to bed. Teenagers do not realize that the consequences are even on our long-term health. It was only a hypothesis before, but studies have proven that the glow of our electronics do in fact, have bad consequences on our sleep. The study was based on an experiment, which involved a dozen adults and it happened over the course of two weeks. The subjects were asked to read for approximately four hours on a tablet and repeat that during five consecutive nights. The other subjects read printed books. The next week the subjects that read on a tablet, read on a printed book and vise versa. The results of the study showed that the subjects who read on a tablet did not have as much melatonin. As a consequence the time they took to fall asleep was increased, and their restorative sleep phase was decreases. Furthermore with the same amount of sleep, the subjects who read on tablets were less alert and felt sleepy during the day . Even if people find ways to contradict this study by pointing out the psychological influence of the experiment on the subject, many studies converge and seem to be drawing the same conclusions. This study was based on the use of tablets but the influence of smartphones or other electronic devices have the same effects . The problem is that seventy percent of teenagers possess one or more electronics in their bedroom, which has a consequence on their sleep and we will see how it impacts their academic results.

Secondly we are going to look at the importance of memory for academic performances, how it is linked to sleep, and how electronics disrupt those mechanisms. To optimize academic success we need to have a great memory that lets us memorize for our quiz the next day, or that lets us accumulate information to continue to progress everyday without having forgotten what was learned before. For that reason is extremely important to fully understand the different memory mechanisms . Without memory our civilization would not be where we are today, because scientist would have forgotten their discoveries, and men would not have evolved. It is important to know that we have many types of memory. We have sensory memory, which stocks information perceived by sensory organs during a very short time, the short-term memory, the work memory and the long-term memory. For student academic performances the short-term memory is very useful. Everyday we use it without even realizing it. While reading this sentence, you are using this type of memory to remember the beginning of this sentence while reading the end. This type of memory has different functions. The principal one is to remember a quantity of precise information, without transforming them or manipulating them, during a short period of time (on average twenty seconds). The particularity of this memory is that it remembers well when the number of elements is seven on average (this is why phone numbers have eight digits). Once used the information is either erased or put in the long-term memory part of our brains. During an experience that consists of making students try to memorize during twenty seconds fifteen numbers when they have slept more or less than seven hours. Students that slept more remembered on average eight numbers while the students that slept less than seven hours remembered only five numbers. This small experiment is representative of what happens in class for students that sleep well and students that are sleep deprived. Even if sleeping less affects certain students, short-term memory is affected when a student does not sleep enough. The other essential type of memory to ensure successful academic performances is work memory . We use it consciously. It permits us to not only remember several data temporarily, but also we can manipulate, transform or sort them. This type of memory is very similar to the short-term memory, however while work memory depends on short-term memory, short-term memory can be used without work memory. For example, when we hear a pronoun in a sentence and we remember to whom or to what it makes reference to; we use our work memory. An experiment was made to see if sleep affected work memory. During an experience that consists of making students try to memorize during twenty seconds ten fruits or vegetables, they had to try to render them in thirty seconds and in alphabetical order. When they have slept more or less than seven hours. Students that slept more remembered and were able to put in alphabetical order on average five fruits or vegetables while the students that slept less than seven hours rendered only two fruits or vegetables. Therefore when teenagers are at school and are not able to fully use their short-term and work memory, their academic performances are not as successful because they cannot remember as much information as the students who sleep enough.

There is a very important link between sleep and memory that therefore influences greatly academic performance. Sleep influences memory in several ways: in a direct way because a sleep deficit causes a decrease of vigilance and concentration. A student who hasn’t slept a lot will have trouble concentrating in class and will have a tendency to doze off in class. Furthermore scientists have found that the capacity of short-term memory and work memory cannot be used at their maximum if there is a sleep deficit . The deep sleep phase is the most important phase for memory. During this phase all the data from the day are reactivated in our brains. This reactivation is what allows the information to go from being in the short-term memory part of our brains to the long-term one . Scientists have found that the deep sleep is characterized by waves in our brain and that the slower the waves are, the better our memory is. That is why younger people remember better because their waves are much slower than the adults’ during the deep sleep phase . In short, to succeed academically, memorization is one of the most important factors. If a teenager does not memorize his lessons, he will not do well on the test, and he will have low grades and increase his chances of failure. Knowing that sleep is essential for the good functioning of our memory and also our focus in class, it is crucial that students preserve their sleep.

While teenagers need to sleep really well to increase their memory mechanisms, their electronic devices are messing with those mechanisms. As the years have gone by, the number of electronics has considerably increased, which consequently has increased the electric field of their environments. As a matter of fact, teenagers do not think about the consequences that come from putting their phone on their bedside table along with their radio alarm clocks. Most people are unfortunately not aware of the disastrous consequences of these actions that seem insignificant to them . In each phase of our sleep cycles’ our brain is active and produces waves to induce different actions beneficial for our memorization. The waves of our electronics interfere with the waves of our brains and modify their frequency. Even if it is by just a little those changes can have consequences while the person is sleeping making him more alert and not resting enough and they can also have long term consequences such as more difficulty in the memorization process and inducing more stress on the subject.

Third of all, we are going to look at the impact of electronics on behavior, physically and socially, which also impacts academic performances. We cannot deny that some websites or television programs are beneficial for a teenager’s education; however allowing them to spend too much time with electronics causes different problems. Even if electronics make life more convenient, physical health, social skills and education may suffer if the time spent using electronics is not balanced with time spent in the real world. One of the most alarming physical effects of the use of electronics especially in the United States is obesity. Research has shown that teenagers who spent too much time in front of a television playing video games or just watching a movie were at a higher risk for obesity. While teenagers are sitting in front of their television they are not being active, and they tend to consume food mindlessly without being aware that they are full already. Even if teenagers do participate in active activities, if they spend too much time in front of the television studies show the same reports of high-risk obesity. The second issue that physically affects teenagers is the development of their brains. The part that is affected is the frontal lobe because our environment can influence it . While being on electronic devices teenagers often multitask between their electronics and other activities. If multitasking sounds beneficial, many studies show that teenagers who multitask are actually doing the tasks more slowly and they are not accomplishing these tasks as well. Many other physical issues are caused by the excessive use of electronics but the impact on their health and brain are the principal ones.

Another impact electronics have on teenagers is that they impact their behaviors as they increase stress, reduce their ability to interact with each other, and increase bullying. Many studies have proven that there is a correlation between stress and the use of electronics. Stress in many cases, when out of control, makes students fail academically. The time that teenagers spend interacting with electronic devices is alarming. Now they, not only, watch television, play video games, but they also spend and incredible amount of time texting or talking on the phone. Teenagers by spending all this time interacting with friends, family members or others behind a screen have lost a sense of ability to interact in person and the subtleties beyond the words themselves. Some teenagers have testified that they do not communicate with people face-to-face outside of school. These teenagers do not develop normal social skills, abilities and etiquette. This lack of abilities have long term consequences on academic performance as students are not able to speak as easily in public, they do not participate as much in class and it usually leads to low grades. In addition the rise of bullying is also correlated with the increasing social media sites and mobile devices. Students not only get bullied face to face, now they can also be the victims of online bullying also known as cyber bullying. This kind of bullying is very diverse as it includes all the different social medias and can go from a mean comment to more important issues such as threats sent via text, emails… Now many bullies also go under false names or are just anonymous making it hard to catch them. The teenage victims are affected because it decreases their self-confidence, self-esteem, social development; and it increases their nervousness, insecurities.

Finally we can see how technology interferers with student’s education and how teachers respond to this new system where student’s are always connected. An article published if the New York time called: If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online, showed us forty-seven percent of the teenagers that excessively used electronic devices earned grades at a C or below, however if a teenager uses their electronics devices they are also prone to earn these same grades. This means that all teenagers using electronic devices are subject to a decrease of their grades. Some research indicates that these students were likely to get bored in class really quickly because the only activity that satisfies them is the use of electronics. But most of all those grades are due to the fact that the incredible amount of time spent on social media or electronic devices in general is that much time not spent on studying or other more educational activities. Another issue is the fact that students are not completing their tasks fully. For example instead of reading a book in its entirety they read quick summaries, watch small videos about it or watch the movie. These are actually representative for the need of students to get quick gratification for having completed a task. Due to electronic devices teenagers have lost a certain ability of being focused for a long-time and completing long tasks. Even if computers, phones and the constant stream of stimuli they offer are not the first time wasters and distractions teenagers have to face, they pose today a profound new challenge. Scientists say that our new generation who is anchored in technology is going to have their brains differently wired. However even if teenagers’ excessive use of electronic devices is alarming parents and educators, they are making even more efforts to use technology in their system of education seeing it as a way of connecting with students and making them more interested and focused in the different classes. Therefore many schools not only in the US are equipping themselves with many computers, digital boards, and Internet connections… This is a way of pushing students to use electronic devices for beneficial use for their academic performances.

In conclusion, electronic devices have enormous consequences on teenagers. They disrupt their sleep patterns and their memorization mechanisms; and they also affect teenagers’ behaviors as they increase stress, bullying, and isolation… Even if all those things seem completely different, they are all linked in some ways to electronic devices and consequently affect teenagers’ academic performances. From all the studies of many scientists today, they all draw the same conclusion that the use of electronic devices for recreational use is detrimental for academic performances. However one cannot underestimate that electronics if used appropriately are extremely beneficial as they provide instant data in so many subjects.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.

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