Wake Up Call
Erin Labbé

“Lack of sleep is 'epidemic' among Canadian teens. Here's why it has doctors worried”.

This was the headline of a CBC news story by Duncan McCue, posted January 19, 2019. The story went on to state, that “in 20 years a whole generation of adults will be “functioning sub-optimally”. Around that same time, Southridge received its most recent results from the 2018 Student Survey, which (among many other things), asked students to reveal how many hours of sleep they get, on average, every night. In the analysis of the survey results, cross-references were also made between the data on sleep habits and students’ overall satisfaction and happiness at school.
 
The results? Well, let’s just say they got our attention.
 

The survey, conducted by Lookout Management Inc. (LMI) who specialize in constituent surveys for independent schools across North America, asked more than 400 Southridge students in Grades 5-12 to select whether they get less than six hours of sleep per night, between 6-8 hours, or more than eight hours. The results showed that 290 students are sleeping eight hours or less, on average, on school nights, with only 115 reporting they get more than eight hours of sleep nightly. Not surprisingly, the survey also showed that the older the student, the less sleep they get – hence, our Senior School students are most likely to be sleeping less than eight hours each night, and in some cases, less than six hours.

The recommended amount of sleep for 13 to 18-year-olds is eight to 10 hours per night, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, who also state that a good night's sleep is as important as what you eat and whether you exercise, with benefits that include improved attention, behavior, memory, and overall mental and physical health. However, as reported by the CBC, studies suggest that more than half of Canadian teens get much less, about 6.5 to 7.5 hours per night, which can lead to significant negative outcomes including obesity, diabetes, depression, and substance abuse.

“I’m troubled that our survey results show that so many of our students are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep every night”, said Mr. Drew Stephens, Head of School. “I worry about the health and well-being of our kids. There are so many pressures and stresses on them. Sleep is an important component of wellness, and the fact that many of our students are not getting enough of it does concern me.”

Also troubling was the clear correlation between student overall satisfaction and hours of sleep, as well as the connection between poor sleep and the consumption of digital media.  

“Lesser satisfied students are more likely to regularly watch TV or monitor social media while doing homework. They are also more likely to indicate that they sleep less than six hours on school nights”, stated Kevin Graham, President of LMI, in the survey findings.

In fact, in virtually every category of crosstabs (71 of them), students who reported sleeping less than eight hours on school nights – and particularly those getting fewer than six hours – feel less prepared to manage other areas of their lives. The survey showed that students sleeping fewer than eight hours each night report feeling less capable of dealing with stress, less prepared to have quality and meaningful conversations with teachers and parents, less connected to their teachers and peers, less capable of handling the day-to-day academic workload, and less likely to look forward to coming to school each day. Further, they are less likely to feel they belong at Southridge, less likely to feel valued as a member of our school community, less likely to feel they leave something positive behind every day, less likely to participate in co-curriculars, and they tend to feel less safe emotionally at school.

“I was a bit shocked at how obvious the survey results were”, said Mr. Brad Smith, Senior School Principal. “We have this group of students who are over-using (or mis-using) digital media, which then affects their sleep habits, which in turn affects their ability to cope every day, enjoy school, and manage expectations, which then creates stress and anxiety and affects their friendships, connections to teachers, and their overall engagement in the school community.”

“The results of the survey were crystal clear”, says Mrs. Tanya de Hoog, Junior School Principal. “Our kids need more sleep, and less screen time. Establishing clear boundaries and routines around sleep and screen time is very important to begin at a young age. That said, as a mom of teenagers myself, I’m aware that this is easier said than done.”

THE BIOLOGY OF ADOLESCENT SLEEP

When teens reach puberty, the timing of their biological clocks begin a shift toward a preference for evenings. This shift lasts throughout adolescence, as teen bodies start producing the sleep hormone melatonin later in the evenings—usually around 11pm – and these melatonin levels stay elevated later in the mornings, which is why they can be difficult to wake up. So, biologically, teens are programmed to be alert later at night and less awake in the morning. Add to this, the reams of research showing the connection between poor sleep and the use of screens at night, and you could find yourself with one very sleep-deprived child.

So, what can be done? Here are some ideas:

  • Prioritize sleep over late-night studying. Parents and students may think it’s worth it to sacrifice a bit of sleep for the sake of homework or studying. Southridge teachers and administrators think otherwise! Encourage students to get their homework done earlier in the evening, or at least an hour before bed. If you feel your child is spending too much time, and too many late nights on school work, speak with their Advisor or Homeroom teacher to discuss strategies to better support them. It’s possible something else is going on, and the school is here to help.
  • Teach your child about the importance of sleep. Southridge students are keen to learn new things and interested in how things work. Talk to them about the importance of sleep and how prolonged periods of insufficient sleep can affect their mental and physical health. Their Advisors and Homeroom teachers will help reinforce this message.
  • Make bedrooms tech free or try and limit screen time before bed. You’ve likely heard this one before and admittedly, it’s a challenge to implement. But, it is the easiest and most effective way to improve sleep – for kids and adults. The blue light given off by screens is believed to suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. The screens are also held close to the face, which strains the focal abilities of the eyes, and when viewed in the dark, the pupils are fully dilated, allowing more of that blue light in.

Ultimately, we all want our students to be healthy – in body and in mind.

By Erin Labbé, Marketing and Communications

From the Spring 2019 Spirit Magazine