Most Australian teenagers are sleep deprived and have no idea their late nights are taking a toll on their report card, a leading sleep educator says.
A sleep education program run in Australian schools has revealed that many students are failing to get their essential 8-10 hours sleep each night, largely due to the distraction of electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and computers.
“But even more concerning is that most of the students I’m talking to really don’t understand the effect that this lack of sleep is having on their mood, their mental health and their learning,” says Lisa Maltman, from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and Director of The Sleep Connection.
“That’s a worry given science now firmly shows that losing even half an hour's sleep affects a student’s grades alarmingly.”
The Woolcock, Australia’s leading sleep and respiratory health organisation, has teamed up with The Sleep Connection to launch a school-based education program to combat the problem of sleep deprivation in youngsters.
Run by Ms Maltman, the course is designed to empower participants with the knowledge, practical strategies and tools to make informed decisions about their sleep health.
Just two months in, the program is revealing the true extent of the sleep-deficient problem.
“What I’m discovering is that most teens intuitively understand that a lack of sleep makes them a bit grumpy and it’s harder for them to concentrate, but that’s where their knowledge ends,” she says.
“They are totally unaware how many hours of sleep they require to function at their best, and how vital that sleep is for their learning.”
Ms Maltman says it was of concern that most didn’t understand using electronic devices at bedtime was particularly detrimental.
“Recent research from Western Australia confirms teenagers with high social media use at bedtime suffer disturbed sleep, which in turn leads to feelings of sadness and declines in long-term wellbeing,” the educator says.
“That’s a message we need to get out there as soon as we can, especially as straw polls in the classroom suggest screens are the number one sleep thief.”
The Sleep Connection is a three-part education program run in primary and secondary schools across Australia aimed at educating students, teachers and parents. It is specifically targeted at creating awareness of sleep deprivation among students and the effect this is having on their lives.
Students take part in a one-hour sleep health presentation before completing a two-week sleep diary followed by a practical workshop to reinforce and personalise the information. Parents and teachers are given a video introduction as well as smart tools to support teenagers throughout the course.
Participants learn not just why they need sleep, but how much they need, what happens during sleep and both the cause and effect of sleep deprivation.
“We aim to boost awareness of sleep deprivation as a real life health issue and empower students with knowledge and practical strategies to make getting a good night’s sleep easier,” Ms Maltman says.
The course also offers top sleep tips and advice on treatment options for those students who have serious sleep issues.
Dr Chris Seton, a paediatric sleep specialist who helped develop the Woolcock program, says a new body of research is emerging to reveal the true effect of sleep deprivation on young people.
“On top of mood and mental health, we now know sleep helps learning by boosting concentration, motivation and information consolidation,” Dr Seton says.
Conversely, sleep deprivation affects decision-making capacity, has a negative effect on behaviour and relationships, and increases risk of accidents, he says.
“As if that’s not enough, it can hurt children’s physical growth, brain development and immune system too, and it can also lead to weight gain. With so much at stake, this is something we really need to work on to get right.”
The Woolcock’s Sleep Connection partnership supports teen sleep education and awareness in schools, while its work with online teen sleep treatment program SleepShack (http://www.sleepshack.com.au/) ensures young people with sleep problems get the help they need. Those with hard-to-treat sleep issues are urged to seek specialist care from clinicians at The Woolcock Clinic.
A full overview of the program and its benefits is available at: http://thesleepconnection.com.au. Woolcock Paediatric Clinic: http://woolcock.org.au/paediatric-sleep-clinic/
Smart Sleep Habits
- Create a regular sleep/wake routine
- Improve your time management skills
- Clear your mind by setting aside thinking and planning time prior to winding down
- Have a one hour break between study and sleep
- Have a one hour break between electronic devices and sleep
- Keep your bedroom an electronics free zone
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet & the right temperature for sleeping
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and dim light at night
- Keep pen and paper beside your bed to write down anything that pops up in your mind that may concern you and keep you awake if you don’t write it down
- Choose healthy food and drink
- Exercise daily, but not too close to bedtime
- Have a relaxing pre bed wind down routine
Top Tips for Teenagers
- Limit weekend sleep-ins
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed
- Get rid of the snooze button: Although you may feel you get a few extra minutes, due to repeatedly waking you up in the wrong part of a new sleep new cycle this can make you wake up feeling groggier
- Ensure bedroom is well ventilated and not too hot
- Don’t lie in bed feeling stressed or frustrated: Try to do something to calm down and then give sleep another go
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