Sunday, 1 March 2009

Lessons in sleep

The Australians are teaching teenagers about sleep. It seems a little counter-intuitive, along the lines of taking coals to Newcastle, but the more you think about it, the more sensible it seems.

For something that is so important, it's remarkable how little we really know about sleep. Even on the most basic question - what is sleep for? - the general consensus is that there is no general consensus and no on really knows. On a more day to day level, sleep occupies a great chunk of our lives, but it's something that we don't really learn anything about.

There are all kinds of lessons in schools about sex education and healthy eating and keeping fit... but what about sleep? It might sound vaguely subversive to promote the cause of sleep. But then look around at the yawning ranks of teenagers who have missed out on sleep and what is more important? If you haven't slept properly, there's less chance of learning properly.

A project in schools in South Australia gave teenagers some basic advice about sleeping - how many hours they needed, suggestions for getting into a regular pattern of healthy sleep and avoiding drinks before bedtime such as coffee which might disrupt sleep. According to the research, this helped teenagers to establish a better sleep routine.

It might also help them to avoid that great scourge of teenage life - "weekend jetlag". This is where they stay up so late at the weekend, blurring morning and night, that going back to school on Monday is like crashing back into a different time zone. Sympathy? No chance.

1 comment:

  1. And not just teenagers...
    I live in Lebanon and it is considered perfectly normal to wake up your child at 6am to get ready for school. My daughter, aged 5 and a bit, is in her classroom at 7.30am, and is back home off the bus at 3.30pm. After doing her homework, she has something to eat and a bath and I say goodnight to her at 7pm. Most nights she has had so little time to wind down that she is far too keyed up to go to sleep at around 7pm and therefore doesn't get her 11 hours sleep.
    No one is honest about how much sleep their children are getting here. I have only heard of one school who has a programme about educating their pupils about the importance of sleep. Most of the time people raise their eyebrows when I say my children are in bed by 7pm. It is thought to be unfair on the children to have to go to bed "so early". Since the children are away at school all day, their parents have no idea what the lack of sleep means for their child's performance academic or otherwise.
    This is a country which goes to bed late - the heat, the lifestyle...and shopping malls, birthday parties, working parents all mean that children are going to bed later and later and having to get up at 6am means they are falling way short of their required sleep needs. What do we do? Lobby schools? Believe me if I thought I stood a chance of having anyone take me seriously I would say something. Instead I worry everyday about how the lack of sleep affects my children now and in the long term.