WE SPOKE WITH LISA MALTMAN FROM THE SLEEP CONNECTION
How widespread do you think sleep deprivation is with our children and teens?
“Unfortunately, approximately 30% of primary school children and 70% of teenager’s experience insufficient sleep.”
What are the key impacts of this lack of sleep on their learning, physical health as well as their mental health and resilience?
“Schools, parents and students themselves are increasingly noticing the impact on all areas of students’ lives including:
Learning and academic performance: sleep helps concentration and motivation along with consolidation and strengthening of new information and memories.
Students tell me in my workshops that they want to improve their sleep to be able to concentrate better at school and improve their academic performance.
Emotional and mental health: studies show children who are sleep deprived may be more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, negative body image and low self-esteem.
Students also comment to me about the negative impact on motivation and stress levels.
Behaviour and decision making: sleep deprivation has a negative effect on behaviour and relationships. It also affects decision making capacity and increases risk of accidents. Of key importance is the students I am aware of, who have been diagnosed with ADHD, when in fact they have been chronically sleep deprived.
Body systems: sleep deprivation affects children’s physical growth, brain development, immune system and plays a key role in weight gain.”
What are the key reasons for this high percentage of sleep deprivation in our children?
“I believe that as a society, we have a lack of awareness of the impact sleep has on every aspect of our lives and therefore we don’t prioritise sleep enough. If parent aren’t educated and don’t prioritise their sleep then this flows on to our children.
From a student perspective, the top 4 reasons they give me for their lack of sleep are:
- Technology/ FOMO (social media, gaming, Netflix, YouTube)
- Homework/ study
- Busy lifestyle combined with poor time management and procrastination
The other reason we must not forget is that most teenagers have a late body clock. This is the normal tendency for many teenagers to fall asleep later than children and adults, due to the delay in onset of their sleep hormone melatonin. The above four reason contribute further to a late body clock.”
How does technology impact on our sleep?
“Electronic device use is normally the top reason students give me for causing their insufficient sleep. Below are 4 reasons why they negatively impact our sleep:
- The blue light emitted by screens on mobile phones, computers and televisions etc suppresses the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Time: the ever increasing distraction and FOMO eats into sleep time.
- Brain alerting: Using devices at night keeps your brain stimulated making it harder to wind down and fall asleep.
- They may wake you up: with noises, notifications etc if kept in your bedroom. Even just their presence with no incoming distraction may make it challenging for some people to switch off.”
How much sleep are we supposed to be getting across various stages of life?
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): 9-11hrs
- Teens (13-17 years old): 8-10hrs
- Adults: 7-9hrs
What signs should parent or teachers look for?
- “Tired body language and low motivation
- Difficulties concentrating, poor short term memory, declining grades
- Moody and stressed
- Late for school
- Impact on relationships
- Younger children may exhibit symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), becoming excitable, hyperactive, disagreeable and engaging in extreme behaviours like tantrums or aggression.”
For more information on healthy sleep tips; professional help and school programs visit: https://thesleepconnection.com.au
This article was kindly written for Wellbeing Australia by Lisa Maltman from The Sleep Connection.
The Sleep Connection was established by Lisa to meet the growing need to educate students, teachers and parents in schools on the importance of sleep health. Lisa collaborates with key Australian adolescent sleep specialists and psychologists from the Woolcock Medical Institute in Sydney which is world-renowned in the area of sleep research. The content contained in this article is general information only and if you have any concerns you should see a healthcare professional who can address your specific needs.