Any parent of a teenager could recant countless stories of how much of a struggle mornings are when dealing with an adolescent. Mornings are tough for nearly everyone at least some of the time, but for teenagers in particular waking up early presents a particularly difficult struggle. Waking up early for school can leave an adolescent feeling extremely sluggish, even if they got a full eight hours of sleep, which leads many of them to turn to the consumption of caffeine in order for them to handle the stress of the day.
A recent study published by the CDC in Pediatrics on Monday reports that 73 percent of children between the ages of two and 22-years-old are consuming caffeine. This number seems high, but that number has remained the same over the past 10 years. The good news from this study is that young people are turning away from sugary drinks like soda for their caffeine fix; the bad news is that instead of leaving caffeine behind, they are turning to other sources of caffeine to get their daily pick-me-up, namely coffee.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drinks that are high in caffeine should generally be avoided by children and young adults alike. However, with jam-packed schedules full of school, homework, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, and trying to keep an active social life, the average American teenager is strapped for time and energy, and the extra boost to get through the day has to come from somewhere.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least nine and a quarter hours of sleep per night for the average teenager to be fully functional and healthy, but because of their lifestyles, many teenagers are forced to sacrifice sleep in order to get everything else they need to do on a daily basis done. Some teens even report getting as little as 4 hours of sleep any given night.
School takes up, on average, about eight hours of the average teenager’s day. If each class gives about a nightly total of 30 minutes of homework, across an average of eight classes, that’s four hours a day of homework. Any extra-curricular activities will take anywhere upwards of an hour, depending on what they are and how many are being handled at a time, so if a student is doing three extra-curricular activities, that’s about two to four hours. Already the daily schedule is at 14 to 16 hours, which makes the nine-and-one-quarter-hour sleep time impossible. This is without even taking into account the time it takes for the student to get to school, the time it takes for them to eat, any familial obligations they may have, and gives them no time at all to hold down a part-time job without sacrificing sleep and some of their other activities.
With such hectic schedules, it comes as no surprise that even the students who stay away from extra-curricular activities and don’t have part-time jobs would be reaching for a cup of coffee to help them get through the day. Especially with school starting as early as seven in the morning in some places, the fact that adolescents are consuming caffeine at such high numbers in order to be able to handle the stress of school and their other obligations, as well as living up to expectations and dealing with pressure from their parents, is very understandable.
One of the main problems with the school system as it exists now, with regards to the health and wellbeing of the students, is the start times. Organizations such as Start School Later, Inc., which are dedicated to pushing back school starting times to something more reasonable so students are actually able to function on a basic level, have been around for several years now. The schools, however, don’t seem to care, and continue to enforce extremely early class times.
This obligation to wake up extremely early in order to make it to school on time, in combination with every teacher giving homework as if their class is the only class the students are taking, results in extremely high levels of stress and mounting pressure for students to perform well under completely unreasonable circumstances.
The things American teenagers manage to deal with are astounding when looked at objectively. While caffeine consumption may not be ideal for people who haven’t finished growing and developing yet, the stress piled onto an adolescent from school, work, their parents, and any of their other obligations makes the indiscretions far more forgivable. Perhaps the subject of the next study should be effects of early school start times in relation to adolescents’ caffeine intake.
Editorial by Robin Syrenne