What’s the problem?
Sleep is an extremely important part of our lives, seeing as we spend an average third of our life in bed. Sleep is even more important for teenagers, who are recommended to get at least 8 hours every night. Getting enough sleep is a day to day struggle, whether it’s because of school, sports, jobs, or other commitments. Lack of sleep can hurt performance in school and cause unwanted side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, muscle aches, memory loss, and even depression. A CDC study showed that high school students who are deprived of sleep are more likely to drink, smoke, and seriously consider suicide. This lack of sleep usually comes about by having too much work, not enough time, or bad time management. Ensuring teens get enough sleep is vital to ensuring their health, and actions such as moving school an hour back or lessening workloads would help combat the problem.
Feel free to watch this video of a CBS News segment on sleep and teens:
Why do you care?
This issue affects both me and every one of my friends. We all have trouble keeping track of time, and many nights are spent working past midnight studying for tests or completing assignments. I am sure that these issues are shared with teens worldwide, and by fixing sleep problems in teens, we can increase academic performance, productivity, and overall health.
While sleep deprivation certainly does not affect only teens, the problem being highlighted here is between teenagers and schools in general (or those who control the school).
How does Game Theory work/help?
Game theory is the study of strategic decision-making. Using logic, reasoning, and math, game theorists try to solve games between players and determine the most likely outcome(s). In this sense, the game is being played by two players: the teens as a whole, and schools as a whole. Both players will play different strategies, which are basically the different actions that can be performed by one group. When both strategies are played, a certain outcome occurs.
When the players play the game, they want the outcome that produces the best payoff (or reward) for them. In the model below, these payoffs are represented by the numbered pairs. The first number is the payoff to the row player (the teens), while the second number is the payoff to the column player (the school). A positive number indicates a good payoff, while a negative payoff indicates a bad payoff.
By using Game Theory, we can map the players and their moves and determine all of the outcomes, and which will be the best or which will most likely occur (solving the game).
Setting Up the Game Model
I chose to model this game as a teen against a school and the options a school could take regarding sleep. Overall, a teen student is faced with three items that they can do/partake in before sleep.
- Studies: Doing homework, studying for tests. Missing out would mean poor grades and education, and could lead to further stress and, in the long-term, less success (generalized)
- Social/Leisure: Interacting with friends, socializing, relaxing, playing games, etc. Missing out would mean less time to de-stress and enjoy yourself, or make friends
- Activities: Playing a sport, working, and other commitments. Missing out could mean anything from not earning money or not taking care of a sibling.
Seeing as a student that does all three would most definitely have a little sleep, a student can only choose to do one or two if they want to get enough sleep. This means they must give up something.
Doing only one thing would guarantee enough sleep and a proper day at school, but you would miss out on the other two options. Which ones you choose to miss or do depend on the individual’s preferences and utilities. With certain combinations of the three, the students will end up choosing one of three strategies:
- Get the right amount of sleep – The teenager will complete their work and be refreshed for the next day, but may miss out on Studies, Social/Leisure, and Activities
- Get more than enough sleep – The teenager will be even more refreshed and prepared for the next day, but to do so they will have to skip doing one or more of Studies, Social/Leisure, and Activities
- Get not enough sleep – The teenager will not be refreshed for the next day (less attention, drowsiness, poor in-school performance) but will have completed Studies, Social/Leisure, and Activities
The school’s two strategies are much more straightforward:
- Do nothing – the school will not change in any way and continue on as normal
- Start School later – the school will change their schedule to allow students to arrive noticeable later (say 1 hour).
This chart models the payoff on the sleep of students, and how that reflects on a school
|Teen and Sleep vs School||Schools|
|Do Nothing||Start School Later|
|Teens||Sleep late (insufficient sleep)||
Not enough sleep means more stress, less attention, activity, etc. Schools get less out of the student
Students will get enough sleep thanks to extra time, and will have completed all of their “things”. School benefits from a student more (maybe they now play a sport, join a club, etc.
|Sleep on-time (recommended sleep)||
Ready for school with no sleep-caused side effects, school benefits from a productive student
Teens get even more sleep and are ready for school. School benefits from a productive student
|Sleep early (more than enough sleep)||
Students have missed out on too much the previous day, but still have sleep for school. School benefits from a productive student
Students will still have missed out on the day before, but has plenty of sleep. School benefits from a productive student
What’s the best strategy?
Solving this game, we see that the school’s optimal strategy would be to Start School Later every time, due to better outcomes when students sleep late. The student’s optimal strategy (knowing the school will choose to Start Later) is to Sleep Late or Sleep On-time, which both gives the best outcome.
For the school, it makes sense to start school an hour later. While they may have to initially deal with transitional issues like logistics for buses, planning events, they will be rewarded with more active students, both in the literal and physical senses; students will feel as if they had more time to sleep or work, and they may be able to manage to balance all three of the “actions.” In turn, more students might get further involved in school, do more activities, and so on.
For students, they now have the choice to stay up later to do more things, or catch up on sleep and develop a healthier sleep routine. They can choose either of these two options and still benefit from a later school start.
How could we implement the solution?
While starting school an hour later (shifting everything an hour later) is itself a policy, it might prove to be too difficult to implement. Instead, schools could still get extra time in the morning by shortening or removing the first-period class to allow for a later start. As a compromise, a school could do this on certain days (maybe three of five) only to transition into a full week of a later start.
How can people help right now?
The ideal way for people to get involve is to campaign for starting school later at your own school, or at a school nearby. Talk to the administration and urge them to start school later to help their students succeed.
If you want to help from the comfort of your computer, please head over to Start School Later and read what they have to say. I would strongly recommend joining their newsletter and even donating to help spread awareness and promote change within schools and the country as a whole.
I believe a good way of showing proof of the occurrence of sleep deprivation in teens is asking you, the reader, directly. Please click on the short poll below and then view the statistics of the poll after. If you are not currently a high schooler or teenager, please answer the questions as you would have when you were a high school student.
If you want to read more on the subject, please follow the links below:
- Thanks to School, Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough (US News)
- Common Sleep Disorders in Teens (WebMD)
- Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health (American Psychological Assn.)
- 16 Dangers of Teen Sleep Deprivation (Sleep Passport)
- TEENS AND SLEEP (National Sleep Foundation)
If you want to watch more videos on the subject, please click on the videos below:
Thank you for browsing my Catalyst Proposal! I hope you have taken something away from it!
Have a Good Night!
Would you support starting school later? Are there any other solutions you can think of? Thoughts or concerns? Feel free to comment and add your own opinion to the discussion!