Sleep Debt: Gen Zers Are Not Getting Enough Zzzs
Thu, February 2, 2023

Sleep Debt: Gen Zers Are Not Getting Enough Zzzs

While many people still prefer brick-and-mortar stores, Generation Z or those born between 1997 and 2007 are more comfortable shopping online based on a study by global brand consulting agency Wunderman Thompson. However, Gen Zers are not just using their smartphones for online shopping. They also access their devices to socialize, find and share interesting content, as a study tool, play online games, and learn topics that interest them. While technology provides benefits, it also leads Gen Zers to sleep debt.

Sleep Debt: What Is It and Can You Catch Up on It?

Sleep debt is a sleep deficit, which is a cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep that may lead to physical and mental fatigue. But contrary to other people’s beliefs, paying back an accumulated sleep debt doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires patience and the right strategy to catch up on the lost sleep.

Harvard Medical School shared that the greater the sleep debt of a person is, the less capable their body is to recognize that they have it. The moment the body gets used to the symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as fatigue, irritability, and fuzzy-headedness, it will be harder to recall what it means to be fully rested. However, sleep debt will still mount and its health consequences will increase. It puts an individual at an increased risk of weight gain, memory loss, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Sleep debt may also lead to insomnia as well as other underlying conditions that may need medical attention. There is a chemical called adenosine that is found in the body. As the cells in our body produce power to help us move in the day, adenosine is released into the bloodstream. Then, it is taken by the receptors in the brain region (basal forebrain) that focuses on wakefulness. In there, the adenosine acts as a dimmer switch that turns down the processes linked with memory, reactions to physical stimuli, and attention. As adenosine mounts, one may feel drowsier. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors but is not always a healthy option.

Kailey Spina Horan, Ph.D., LMHC shared that if sleep had a credit score, Generation Z would have a poor rating. She mentioned how teens are gradually losing sleep every year. Teens nowadays lose about 90 minutes of sleep every school night compared to ages ago.

Why Gen Z Are Accruing Sleep Debt

Dr. Horan said that sleep debt happens when a person fails to achieve a healthy number of hours of sleep for their age. For instance, adolescents are required to sleep for a minimum of 9 hours, but teenagers sleep only about 5 hours per night from Monday to Friday. This would mean that the teen is already in 20 hours of sleep debt by Saturday. All of these happen in one week alone. This is why teenagers often crash sleep for ten hours or more during weekends to catch up on some hours.

Yet, a US study has stated that it usually takes four days to catch up on one hour of lost sleep alone. There are underlying factors why Generation Zs are not getting enough sleep. It could be due to biological changes linked with natural maturation. When it happens, it causes a delay in their circadian rhythm, so they sleep at later hours.

Peer Victimization, Academic Pressure

Another factor of sleep loss is peer victimization. In the US alone, 20% of students who are between 12 and 18 years old experienced bullying during their school year. This was based on the National Center for Education Statistics. Last year, a study also revealed that peer problems were associated with lower levels of sleep quality.

Standardized tests, finals, midterms, exams, homework, Dean's list, honor roll, and parental expectations also cause teens to be sleepless. They feel the need to keep up with their peers and this leads to relentless competition. The constant expectation and stress to achieve and succeed have become unmanageable and intolerable for Gen Zers.

In statistics provided by database company Statista, the parental amount of pressure on students worldwide was detailed. In China, 68% of respondents said that their parents put too much pressure on their kids to succeed academically. Only 11% said there’s not enough pressure, 14% said there was just the right amount of pressure, and 7% answered that they don’t know or refused to answer the question.

Pakistan is the next country with a high number of respondents (41%) who said there is too much parental pressure to achieve academically. Other countries included in the survey were India (44%), Poland (215), Kenya (42%), Lebanon (33%), Jordan (30%), Turkey (30%), Germany (28%),  France (25%), Mexico (20%), Palestinian territories (20%), Israel (19%), Brazil (18%), Britain (17%), Russia (13%),  US (11%), Spain (8%), and Ukraine (7%).

Smartphone Use Among Gen Zers

One of the foremost complaints of parents of Gen Zers is the amount of time their child spends on their smartphone. In a few short years, TikTok, YouTube, Snap Chat, and Instagram have created a name for themselves online.

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, even shared the use of social media platforms by age group in the US: 90% of people between 18 and 24 years old are using YouTube, 76% use Facebook, 75% use Instagram, 73% use Snapchat, and 44% use Twitter.

Meanwhile, 93% of people who are 25 to 29 years old use YouTube, 84% use Facebook, 57% use Instagram, 47% use Snapchat, and 31% use Twitter. Tech news provider TechJury shared that the average smartphone owner unlocks their phone about 150 times a day and 71% of them usually sleep next to their phone. Depression and smartphone use have also been correlated.

However, smartphones emit blue light that is proven to stimulate sunlight. Thus, it activates a part of the brain that is associated with wake and sleep cycles in the circadian rhythms. When such a part is activated, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol, which signals the body to wake up and be more alert.

Gen Zers should combat sleep deprivation and be consistent with their bedtimes. Use electronic devices less before bedtime to lessen your risk for depression, mood swings, anxiety, weight gain, and sensitivity to pain.