We know it’s a struggle to drag your child out of bed to face a school day. But maybe that’s also because their bodies are protesting a lack of sleep.
It’s no mystery that sleep provides many benefits including improved health, better management of emotions and weight control. But sleep is also vital for language learning, memory, problem solving and behaviour in children. This was suggested in a new study led by Dagmara Dimitriou, director of Lifespan Learning and Sleep Laboratory, department of psychology and human development, University of California at Irvine Institute of Education.
The recommended amount of sleep for adolescents, as recommended by Dimitriou, is around nine hours but school commitments, biological factors such as pubertal phase delay, as well as modern lifestyle distractions such as energy drinks, coffee, social media and smartphones mean that insufficient and poor quality of sleep are pervasive among adolescents.
In fact, Dr Kenny Peter Pang, an ear, nose & throat consultant at Asia Sleep Centre, believes that with Singapore’s curriculum, it is only possible for adolescents to get about seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Even then, he says that many teenagers he treats sleep only about five to six hours per night, which is “grossly inadequate”.
He says, “Some teenagers have very irregular sleep patterns. They may occasionally sleep at 9pm and wake up at 6am but on certain days they may sleep from 3am to 6am. This irregular sleeping pattern is terrible for the brain and body. If this persists, the child may develop Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. This is when the child sleeps later and later at night, to the point where they cannot even sleep earlier at night anymore.”
Dr Pang points out that tweens and teenagers with sleep deprivation are usually moody, irritable, temperamental and suffer from poor concentration and are unable to focus on their studies. This is in turn translates to poor results in school and exams.
Being deprived of sleep also lowers their immune system, which means that these kids fall sick more often, frequently getting flus and colds, which further hinders their studies. Dr Pang also points out that sleep-deprived youngsters are constantly moody, which leads to misunderstandings and quarrels with siblings and parents.
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According to the Dimitriou study, schoolwork is one of the key reasons young people suffer from sleep deprivation. Dr Hana Ra Adams, a counsellor at the German European School of Singapore, suggests that one way to deal with this problem is for students to come up with a schedule.
“Plan ahead of time using a large wall calendar or a calendar diary. Write down what exams are coming up and schedule study slots before the exam. This helps teenagers to manage their time, instead of spending hours ‘cramming’ the night before the exam. Set a priority list of what work needs to be tackled first and which is less urgent. Students can ask teachers what they need to focus on, so they will know what areas to set aside more time for.”
The experts agree that teenagers need to have self-control over modern lifestyle distractions, although parents should intervene when necessary. Dr Pang recommends not letting your children use the Internet, computers and social media by 10pm at night. But in the long term, Dr Adams says it is crucial to teach your child to balance their technology use from a young age. One tip to limit technology use at home is to install charging points outside of your child’s room, so that they do not have direct access to their phones around the clock.
To prepare the brain for sleep, encourage your teenagers to wind down for an hour, read a book, then sleep by 11pm. This gives most secondary school students who need to wake up by 6:30am for school at least seven hours of sleep.
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