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Sleepless on the North Shore

Published:
31/08/2017
Author:
Think Local

Around 80 percent of Australian teenagers aren't getting the vital eight to 10 hours sleep a night, according to a national study by cyber security group Family Zone.

It's not unusual to send and receive at least 10 texts a night for a third of the 1,000 Australian teenagers surveyed, while three quarters have no parental controls on their technological devices - leaving them open to inappropriate material to stream.

Countless scientific studies have proven this potent cocktail of influences result in kids falling asleep at school or university, reduced school attendance, underperforming scholastically, suffering anxiety and depression and entering Into more risk-taking behaviours.

The Impact on their education is profound.

"A recent UNICEF report rated Australia 39 out of 41 countries In educational attainments," says Dr Chris Seton, adolescent sleep physician from Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. Only Romania and Turkey were ranked below Australia.

The figure of eight out of 10 kids being sleep deprived has doubled In the last decade. "But we're not seeing any public policy changes here as a result, whereas in the US,sleep deprivation was declared a public health issue two years ago," Dr Seton reveals.

"There's a huge connection between correct sleep levels and academic performance. After a decent sleep, when the teacher says something, your short-term memory helps you recall It a few hours later," says Dr Seton. 
"For that information to be retained, it needs to move to your long-term memory and that only happens with deep REM sleep. If you don't get enough, that day's learning is gone."
Sleep studies have also found that teens have a biological tendency to go to sleep as much as two hours later than younger kids, so waking them two hours before their bodies are ready means they're clocking up a huge steep debt. 
Therefore, it's no wonder Dr Seton is an advocate of schools starting later and parents taking more control of devices.

Dr Tim Wright, principal of Shore in North Sydney, says that, while the problem of sleepy teenagers and device use is an issue for the school, "starting school later in theory is great but in practice it wouldn't work because of all the parents that have to be at work at 8.30am or 9am."

Sleep health is tackled from as young as kindergarten at Ravenswood School for Girls. "The importance of healthy sleep behaviours should be addressed at every level from Kindergarten to Year 12 during regular education lessons, mentor groups and wellbeing workshops," says Ravenswood principal Anne Johnstone.

"Our Director of Analytics meets with every Year 12 student to analyse their academic performance and determine a study schedule that includes technology avoidance close to bedtime."

 What's ultimately needed, say experts across the globe, is a mix of all these measures - understand teenagers can't fall asleep early and allow them to stay up later, better sleep routines, schools starting later, and using parental controls to limit device use.

Lack of sleep caused marks to drop

year 12 Mosman High student Jake Abraham endured three years of sleepless nights. "It started because I was anxious about a few things that kept me awake. That spiralled into worrying about not sleeping. "At its worst I was getting two or three hours a night, though some nights I didn't sleep at all," he explains.

"Social media and devices were part of the issue - when you're lying awake for hours you go onto your phone and check messages and posts to pass the hours," Jake reveals.

Due to this, Jake's marks took a big hit. "My marks dropped from 90 per cent on average for assignments and tests to just 45 percent. We had support from the school, with teachers saying I could work from home, which helped a bit."

Jake and his mum Sue finally went to see sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton, who prescribed a bedtime routine involving banishing the phone at 9.30pm, stopping school work at 10pm, followed by any combination of book reading, a snack, playing his saxophone, some light exercises and meditation. Lights have to be out at 11.15pm and it's a 7.30am wake up for school days.

"It's about re-training the brain into a sleep routine," says Jake, "so with my new routine, I'm now getting seven hours a night. I have more control over my sleep and feel more on track to complete the HSC and what's beyond."

 

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