What if there was a virus going around your school affecting 30% of primary school students and 70% teenagers? What if that virus had an adverse affect on physical development, emotional and mental health, behaviour, and learning and academic performance?
These effects are occurring now, not through a virus but an equally virulent epidemic that is sweeping through Australian schools. Sleep Deprivation. The good news is that, unlike many viruses, we know the simple cause and effects of sleep deprivation and can take action now to deliver a cure.
Why is sleep deprivation such an issue?
Sleep, nutrition and exercise are core pillars of a healthy life, but sleep will impair function fastest if you don’t get enough:
- Learning and academic performance: sleep helps concentration and motivation along with consolidation and strengthening of new information and memories.
- Emotional and mental health: studies show children who are sleep deprived are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, negative body image and low self-esteem.
- Behaviour and decision making: sleep deprivation affects decision making capacity, has a negative effect on behaviour and relationships, and increases risk of accidents.
- Body systems: sleep deprivation affects children’s physical growth, brain development, immune system and plays a key role in weight gain.
Why are our children not getting the sleep they need?
The majority of child and adolescent sleep problems fall into four categories, though for many people a combination are at play.
- Insufficient sleep: This is the most common sleep problem influenced by lack of understanding of the importance of sleep and hours required for optimal functioning. This combined with a busy lifestyles and the drive to be socially connected means sleep becomes undervalued and a low priority. Together this means children are simply not getting enough sleep for optimal physical and mental health.
- Psychological Insomnia: Is a common problem reported by adolescents. This includes difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early and non-restorative sleep causing significant distress or impairment. The cause is often anxiety, depression or stress. Or it could be that they cannot switch off their brain from thinking and let go of the day.
- Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPS): Also known as “late body clock” or “night owl”. This can be generally defined when the teen‘s sleep is delayed by more than 2 hrs of the desired time. They have difficulties getting to sleep, being more awake late at night and sleepy in the morning. This creates difficulties getting up at the appropriate time in the morning and they may describe feeling permanently jetlagged. This body clock preference in adolescence is a mix of biological factors, further exacerbated by lack of parental monitoring, academic and social pressures and the use of electronic devices.
- Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Loud and regular nightly snoring is often abnormal in otherwise healthy children. Sometimes it is a sign of a respiratory infection, a stuffy nose or allergy. In more serious cases it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is caused by an obstruction of airflow when breathing, causing a lack of adequate oxygen supply to the brain. In children this is most commonly due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids but may also be influenced by factors including obesity and small airways.
How much sleep do our children need?
Dr Chris Seton from the SleepShack says the best way to judge how much sleep a child needs is to assess whether it’s “enough for them to wake spontaneously – meaning without an alarm clock – on most mornings and avoid tiredness during the day at least until the last hour before bedtime”.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- Preschoolers (3-5 years old) : 10-13hrs
- Primary School Aged Children (6-12years old) : 9-11 hrs
- Teens (13-17 years old) : 8-10 hrs
How do we identify children who are sleep deprived?
Teaching is possibly the foremost occupation dealing with symptoms of sleep deprivation:
- Tired body language
- Difficulties concentrating, poor short term memory, declining grades
- Moody and stressed
- Late for school
- Younger children can exhibit symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), becoming excitable, hyperactive, disagreeable and engaging in extreme behaviours like tantrums or aggression
For others signs visit: Signs that children are tired
What can we do to raise awareness?
The first step is to create an awareness of the current level of sleep deprivation among students and the effect this is having on all aspects of their lives. Sharing some practical sleep tips with your students and parents is a great way to start:
- Prioritise your sleep and 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 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 and avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.
- Exercise daily, but not too close to bedtime.
- Have a relaxing pre bed wind down routine.
- Limit weekend sleep ins.
- Get rid of the snooze button.
- Don’t lie awake in bed feeling stressed or frustrated. Try to do something to calm down and then give sleep another go.
For further sleep tips visit–The Sleep Connection-Solutions
The next step is to develop a “sleep smart” school culture by providing a simple whole-school approach to sleep education. The influence of sleep on our children’s learning as well as their physical and emotional health is unequivocal and education provides a key for change.
IMPORTANT: Seek advice from a health professional.
If you remain concerned that problems with sleep, however mild, are having an impact on you in terms of wellbeing, school, relationships or home life then seek advice and see below for both online and face to face options.
SleepShack is the clinically proven, online sleep program for pre-teens* (10-12 years) and teenagers (13-18 years). If you have any questions regarding the correct pathway simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information visit SleepShack
Face to face
The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research has developed a comprehensive Paediatric and Adolescent Sleep Service which includes an interdisciplinary approach to treating sleep disorders in young people from birth to 18 years. For questions regarding appointments please call 0423 523 840 or 02 9114 0000.
For more information visit Woolcock Paediatric and Adolescent Sleep Clinic