The Epidemic of Sleep Deprivation*


Teenagers are supposed to sleep eight to ten hours per night, every night.

Does this make you laugh? Maybe you should keep reading. (Or take a nap – that would be good too.)


For my catalyst project, I chose to tackle the UN Goal of Good Health and Well-being.

While the more specific sub-goals don’t address sleep, I believe this is in part due to a lack of awareness and a lack of research around the importance of sleep, because sleep is incredibly important to public health. This project is an attempt to begin filling this hole in awareness.

How much did you sleep? Fill out the survey here:

Sleep (and sleep deprivation) is one of the least understood yet most important human phenomena.

Sleep makes us measurably smarter.
– It makes us more creative.
– It makes us less likely to make simple (yet often life-threatening) mistakes, like car accidents and medical errors. (“Sleep and Disease Risk.”)
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel | Features | CDC.”)
– It makes us more alert (17 hours awake is equivalent to being legally drunk in most US states) (Dawson).

Sleep makes us measurably physically healthier. Sleep research has barely scratched the surface, yet we already know that sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of
– Obesity
– Heart Disease
– Type 2 Diabetes
– Hypertension (high blood pressure)
– Degenerative brain conditions, like Alzheimer’s
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.”)(National Institutes of Health. “Sleep Deprivation Increases Alzheimer’s Protein.”)

For nerds like me, here’s some data: Age-Adjusted Percentage Reporting Chronic Health Conditions by Sleep Duration—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.”)

Sleep makes us measurably mentally healthier.
Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.
Furthermore, a causal relationship has been established. Scientists have found that sleep disruption affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the brain, drastically increasing risk for psychiatric disorders.
There are estimates that 65%-90% of the adults and 90% of children who have major depression also experience a sleep problem. Most of these patients have insomnia, and around one in five have obstructive sleep apnea.
Other studies have shown that adults who report a history of insomnia are four times as likely to develop depression in the next three years. On the other side, those with depression and insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment than those without insomnia. Patients with depression and insomnia are more likely to experience suicidal ideation and even die by suicide than those who don’t have insomnia.
Sleep disorders affect over half of adults who have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). They are also common in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. Studies have shown that children with anxiety take longer to fall asleep and sleep less deeply than healthy children. Sleep problems precede anxiety 27% of the time, and can slow the recovery process.
Sleep problems affect an estimated 25%-50% of children with ADHD. It is important to note that sleep deprivation can cause children to be hyperactive, inattentive, and emotionally unstable, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. (Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.”)

Sleep has been described as
“the single most important factor in predicting longevity, more influential than diet, exercise, or heredity.”

Yet, sleep deprivation is widespread throughout the country.

Prevalence of Short Sleep Duration (<7 hours) for Adults Aged ≥ 18 Years, by County, United States, 2014
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.”)

However, sleep deprivation can be very dangerous.

(“What Happens To Your Body And Brain If You Don’t Get Sleep | The Human Body.”)

Why? What does this little-understood period of time do for our brains, and how does it work?

(“Why Do We Have To Sleep?” YouTube, 28 Sept. 2015,

Why are we sleep-deprived? There are a number of reasons.

Sleep disorders.
It was estimated in 2006 that between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. That number has likely increased since, due to the increasing prevalence of sleep disorders and populational increase.
There are around 90 sleep disorders, broadly defined as conditions that cause symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, and abnormal events occurring during sleep (Colten).
45% of Americans say that “poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days” (“Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation.”).

As of 2018,
– 1 out of 3 Americans work 45 hours or more per week, and 9.7 million work more than 60.
– Americans work 7.8% more hours per year than they did in 1979
– Americans sleep an average of 6.5 hours per night, a drop from the last century

Light, especially blue light, at night.
Nighttime light pollution affects 80% of the world’s population (Morelle). Unnatural light prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, which naturally makes people sleepy. Without melatonin, people are more at risk of sleep deprivation.

One more of my addition: culture. This is harder to measure, but I’ve noticed a culture of sleep deprivation as a perceived proxy for one’s dedication, self-restraint, and work ethic at school. People brag about how little sleep they got, as if sleeping is a weakness and not a biological necessity.

Have you noticed this in your school or workplace?

You can view the results here:

Hopefully, by now, you’re convinced of the importance of sleep. I’ve created a series of posters that anyone can access and print out on typical 8.5×11 paper and post anywhere. There’s no need to attribute it to me. Also, feel free to modify them in any way possible. (I’d request that you keep the citations, though, for source credibility and so people can track down more information.) The goal here is to improve public health on a scale as large as possible.

You can access the posters here.

It’s clear that sleep deprivation is not worth it in the long run. What about the short run? Is it worth losing some sleep to make more money or do more work in the short run?

Maybe – but that’s not what’s happening when someone is sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation decreases efficiency and productivity – so much that working longer hours means losing money.

In fact, sleep deprivation costs the United States alone an estimated

400 billion dollars every year.


So sleep deprivation is worse for health and productivity. The problem is that we do not perceive it to be so – we are sorely uneducated on the dangers of sleep deprivation and sorely unaware that we are, in fact, making negative progress when sleep deprived.

What can you do personally to improve your own sleep?

Remove blue light before bedtime.
Light with a short wavelength (blue light) is more commonly seen earlier in the day, while light with longer wavelengths (mostly orange) is seen later in the day. Blue light signals to the pineal gland in the brain that it should not release melatonin, a natural hormone that induces sleepiness.
Blue light is common in fluorescent and LED lights and the screens of electronic devices.
If you’re not ready to give up your devices at night, that’s okay – there are apps that can adjust the level of blue light based on your personal sleep schedule. Here’s a free app that can control blue light levels in computer screens:
Night Shift mode can reduce blue light levels on iPhones based on time of day and location:
Here is a list of free apps for Android:

Meditate, especially before bed.
It sounds silly, but it actually helps. Studies have shown not only its efficacy, but that it is more effective than sleep hygiene education (teaching people recommended behaviors and practices).
Note: MAP is mindful awareness practices and SHE is sleep hygiene education. (Black)

Black, David S. “Mindfulness Meditation in Sleep-Disturbed Adults.”

If you think you may have a sleeping disorder, talk to your doctor. Untreated sleeping disorders can cause sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation, which can contribute to any order of medical conditions. Here is a list of sleeping disorders:

Here’s the article about my family’s experience with sleep apnea:

Further reading:
The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you have on any of my work!
Thanks, and please get a good night’s sleep!

*(Ironically, I’m writing all of this after one in the morning.)

Works Cited:

“Sleep and Disease Risk.” Sleep and Disease Risk | Healthy Sleep, WGBH Educational Foundation and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 18 Dec. 2007,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel | Features | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2018,

Dawson, Drew, and Kathryn Reid. “Fatigue, Alcohol and Performance Impairment.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 1997,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2018,

National Institutes of Health. “Sleep Deprivation Increases Alzheimer’s Protein.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 24 Apr. 2018,

Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health, 18 Mar. 2019,

Dement, W.C., and C Vaughan. “The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1999,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 May 2017,

“What Happens To Your Body And Brain If You Don’t Get Sleep | The Human Body.” YouTube, 26 Dec. 2017,

“Why Do We Have To Sleep?” YouTube, 28 Sept. 2015,

Colten, Harvey R. “Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders.” Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970,

Morelle, Rebecca. “Light Pollution ‘Affects 80% of Global Population’.” BBC News, BBC, 10 June 2016,

“Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation.” National Sleep Foundation,

Covert, Bryce. “Americans Work Too Much Already.” The Nation, 28 Sept. 2018,

McCarthy, Niall. “Report: Sleep Deprivation Costs The U.S. Economy $400 Billion Every Year [Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 7 Dec. 2016,

Black, David S. “Mindfulness Meditation in Sleep-Disturbed Adults.” JAMA Internal Medicine, American Medical Association, 1 Apr. 2015,

Image source:

Ponzi, Fabiana. “Cute Latino Teenager Sleeping in Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-Free) 34288984.” Shutterstock,

Share this project
  1. April 24, 2019 by Camille Neutz

    Wow! This is an awesome project! I think it is supper interesting how wide spread sleep deprivation is and yet there is so little research on it and preventative measures because of that. I do think that you came up with some great ideas on how to improve this problem though, so good work!

  2. April 25, 2019 by Lauren Bernard

    Hi! Your project is amazing – well executed, great facts and supporting evidence, and a good analysis of the information. Sleep deprivation is an issue I have seen at my school, and I think it really needs to be addressed. Students are overworking themselves with little to no sleep during the week, then getting abnormal amounts of sleep on the weekends to catch up. I feel like this is an issue everyone is aware of, but no one is taking action. How can I help to limit sleep deprivation at my school and encourage people to take action?

  3. April 26, 2019 by Yufa Ando

    The structure of your article is very easy to follow — the bolded letters and bullet-pointed facts emphasizes important things about getting sleep.
    I think blue light is especially a problem for teens today because we are constantly distracted by our smartphones. It is really helpful that you have attached some apps people can use to reduce this!

  4. April 26, 2019 by Ingrid

    I loved this page since it was very engaging and easy to read. The way you included bolded letters, larger fonts, data, and videos were very appealing. I was aware of the blue light affecting our sleep but I never knew meditating can help us sleep! Also loved your posters! The facts scared me a bit but I think that’ll make me sleep more.

  5. April 26, 2019 by Laura.Reysz

    Amelia, thank you for sharing your personal experiences and for creating such a concise and realistic plan of action. Great job!

  6. April 28, 2019 by Brennan.Benson

    This article was a very interesting read! And easy one too, thanks to the images and bolded information. I think that culture was a spot-on addition to the list of causes for sleep deprivation. I also found it interesting that meditation before going to bed helps you sleep better, I think I’ll start doing it every night! I wonder if there is a solution to the school culture of sleep deprivation?

  7. April 29, 2019 by Sophia Nappo

    Hi Amelia,

    I absolutely love your presentation! You did a remarkable job! I love how there is so little research about sleep deprivation yet it is so incredibly important, I wonder if you have any tips and tricks to getting more sleep at night; as I am currently exhausted and not getting enough sleep.

  8. April 29, 2019 by Rebecca

    Hi Amelia! I loved your page because the organization is amazing and your inclusion of your personal experience with sleep apnea helped me understand more about the importance of sleep and figuring out if you have issues like sleep apnea that can cause many health issues. I had no idea that 17 hours awake is equivalent to being legally drunk in most US states. On a daily basis, I usually get between 4 and 6 hours of sleep (recently, closer to 3), but unlike some people, I am more inclined to brag when I get more than 6 hours of sleep. If I have no homework (once in a blue moon), I will likely take a shower as soon as I get home from practice and will be asleep by 7:00pm. Are most people who have sleep disorders aware of the fact that they are affected by these disorders or do they go undiagnosed?

  9. April 29, 2019 by Siena.Martin

    Amelia, your project was very well done. As a teenager, I see the effects of sleep deprivation every day. I think part of the reason that students at my school have such poor mental health is because of the lack of sleep they are getting. All your information was laid out clearly and your videos and graph were very helpful. Great job!

  10. April 30, 2019 by Courtney Sell

    Your presentation is awesome. I did not know that there is such little research associated with it because it is such a big topic of discussion. A question I have is how does affect students the most and what can be done? Because I know some mornings I have a test in my first period which is at 7 am and that is just too early to be focused after studying late at night for that test. Should schools start later? Should tests only be given during certain time periods?

  11. April 30, 2019 by Abigail.Dutta

    This is a great project, Amelia! I really like all the polls, studies, videos, and images you included. You also have a very good call to action section that shows multiple ways to improve one’s sleep habits. Really great job and very informative!

  12. May 01, 2019 by Sarah Eichler

    This is awesome! I like how interactive you made the whole project. This is such a cool topic since it affects so many people across the globe. One question I have is why do you think sleep deprivation has developed such a culture of pride?

  13. May 01, 2019 by Sophie.Baron

    Hi! This is really great! I liked this topic a lot because teens struggle with this every day! Well done!

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