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It's high time schools taught their charges how to sleep

Posted on 26 October 2017
It's high time schools taught their charges how to sleep
As fewer children and teenagers are reported to be getting the required number of hours of shut-eye, isn't it time schools became more proactive in teaching their charges how to sleep?

After all, the hazards of drugs, alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and unprotected sex are pointed out repeatedly at school, but the dangers of trying to get by on a few hours of slumber every night aren't given enough attention.

If teachers want to tackle this, the first hurdle to overcome is getting young people to recognise that while they may be in their bedrooms for the right amount of time, they are not actually sleeping for long enough.

Sleep Scotland, a charity which promotes healthy sleep, surveyed almost 800 teenagers.

Half reported feeling tired or 'dragged out' almost every day, but only one in five realised that these feelings of lethargy, lack of concentration and 'can't be botheredness' were related to the fundamental element all humans need to survive; sleep.

Teenagers need more sleep than almost at any other time in their lives, as their bodies and brains develop.

The recommended amount for them is between eight and 10 hours every night.

However, the average number of hours for school age teenagers falls between seven and seven-and-a-half hours, up to a third less than what is necessary.

If a teenager was not eating a third of their necessary calories, concerns would be raised, yet society seems to more readily accept teenage insomnia.

Unfortunately all those missed hours are cumulative, for those who remember sleeping through their weekends as teenagers, this isn't replacing the hours missed during the week, merely a sign of exhaustion.

Another third of the Scottish teens who were surveyed reported that getting to sleep was the problem, more than likely due to the technological stimulation they have put their brains through in the evening.

Like young people all over the world, these teens have grown up thinking electronic devices are a necessity rather than a luxury.

However, this stimulation before bed-time delays the onset of sleep while dim blue lights and the expectation of a pinged message from a friend can reduce the quality of that sleep.

Furthermore, teenage years are especially difficult due to a number of internal pressures, such as the change in sleep patterns from pre-adolescence to adolescence.

Coupled with this is the unfortunate coincidence that bed time has become a battleground for teenagers fighting for their independence from parental control.

The problem is universal: figures from the United States record that the number of pupils who do get enough sleep has remained constantly at 31 percent since 2007, despite the best efforts of the education system to encourage more children into better sleeping habits.

The benefits to learning are crucial in two ways; it is during sleep that memory is consolidated, which is central to learning new information, while lack of sleep affects concentration and so blocks the acquisition of knowledge.

Research from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich in 2012 found that medical students who reported poor quality sleep performed less well than their well-rested peers.

Not having enough sleep also increases the probability of teenage depression, according to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, whose in-depth study tracked the habits of more than 4000 adolescents over the course of a year.

The relationship between obesity and lack of sleep in teenage years is equally stark.

Researchers from Colombia University and the University of North Carolina found teens that don't get sufficient sleep have a greater chance of developing obesity by the time they reach 21.

It is thought that tiredness during the day can encourage teenagers to seek out food which is high in calories, similar to the cravings of someone with a hangover.

Teachers might think that this is an area of their pupils lives they can't have an impact on; after all you can't tuck their charges up at a reasonable hour.

But they can teach teenagers to value sleep, which in turn can turn them on to good sleep habits.

The first step is to help young people recognise they have a problem.

Sleep Scotland has produced a questionnaire for pupils, asking such questions as 'Do you find you are accident prone, tripping over a lot or dropping things?'

Keeping a sleep diary can also be an eye-opener, no pun intended.

Writing down when he or she went to sleep and got up over a number of weeks can let an adolescent see how the number of hours of sleep missed can add up.

First and second year pupils at Govan High School in Glasgow, Scotland have a four to five week block of classroom-based sleep lessons.

Every year a number of pupils are highlighted as having especially poor sleep patterns and members of staff who have been trained as sleep counsellors will visit the family home to work with the parents and the pupil to establish good sleep.

The counsellors stress the importance of sleep hygiene; where adolescents' bedrooms are free from computers, televisions or mobile phones.

The next step is to establish a sleep routine where pupils disengage from a screen at least an hour before going to bed and then might have a bath or milky drink to help them to drop off.

It is at this point that sleep counsellors have to step back and encourage parents to take responsibility for their children's sleep.

Some states in the US have taken a more radical approach to this problem.

Looking at the Circadian rhythms of teenagers, it was discovered that their natural wake-up time is two hours later than younger children or older adults, yet this group are expected to function at school without allowances made for this time shift.

California is the latest state to propose a two hour later start for their high schools in order to boost the performance of their pupils.

If innovative thinking like this is used everywhere, teachers might be able to claim back their classrooms from yawning adolescents barely able to keep their eyes open.

From: Education HQ

By Gordon Cairns
Community contribution / September 21, 2017

Tags: wellbeing

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