From the High School Deputy

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE – SLEEP HEALTH

Recently I read an article written by Dr Chris Seton. He is a paediatric and adolescent sleep physician in Sydney. Chris assesses and treats all types of sleep problems in babies, children and adolescents. He started with:

“Adequate, good quality sleep, healthy nutrition and regular exercise are the three pillars upon which health is optimised in adolescence. When these three factors are in place, teenagers are well-protected from multiple physical and mental health problems. Additionally, resilient and good quality sleep are important buffers against mood and learning problems, which are typically exacerbated by acute stress. Sleep deprivation is an important but poorly recognised health issue, particularly in young people. It results from inadequate and/or poor quality sleep.”

Chris then mentions how a lack of sleep can result in many physical and mental health problems.  Some of these are: impaired classroom learning; lowered self-esteem; poor coping with stress; elevated risk of anxiety; and depression. Teenagers require nine hours of sleep.

“Tired students don’t learn well. Research tells us that smart kids, who do learn well, have longer and better quality sleep than poor learners. We all want the best academic outcomes for our kids, and good sleep is essential in achieving this aim.”

There are many reasons for adolescents being so tired and as parents we can help them, but why should we as parents try to help? Good, resilient sleep protects teenagers from low moods and emotional fragility. Also, learning during the day is totally forgotten pretty much immediately because of the failure of short-term memory. Optimal learning requires good short term memory and long-term memory.

How does sleep impacts on short-term memory? Just as your smartphone goes into low-power mode when the battery is almost flat, a fatigued teen brain goes into ‘shutdown mode’ and blocks out all attempts at new learning. Newly taught information is not absorbed if adequate sleep is not achieved on the night prior to any attempt at new learning.

The second arm of good learning involves long-term memory acquisition. One of the many magical things about our brains is the ability to shift new learning from short-term memory into long-term memory. This shift, or ‘filing’, of memory only occurs effectively in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, more commonly known as dream sleep. This shift from short- to long-term memory banks occurs on the night following a day of new learning.

Dr Chris Seton suggests four steps for parents as a solution to sleeping issues.

Step 1: Have a chat about the power of a good sleep routine.

Sit down and have a chat with your tired teenager about sleep. Sleep is a low-priority activity and is poorly valued by most teenagers.

Step 2: Establish a pre-sleep routine

Suggest a couple of routine relaxing activities in the thirty minutes before bedtime. Going to bed immediately after undertaking brain­alerting activities, such as studying or gaming, means that the brain is not in the mood for sleep, and so thoughts race through the brain after lights out.

Step 3: Retrain the brain

This is a pretty easy and straightforward step. It simply is that bedtime and lights out occur at the same time. This means avoiding undertaking any activities in or on the bed that are not related to sleep. This step is aimed at reducing ‘conditioned arousal’. Like many aspects of improving sleep, this may take some time as it involves reconditioning the brain to change from thinking about the bed as a place of wakeful activities to thinking of it as a place of sleep. So be patient, and expect a gradual, rather than instant, improvement.

Step 4: Avoid having digital devices in the bedroom

The best way to address this is to have a talk about night-time electronic screen use. Screens sabotage sleep and Chris calls it “Digital Heroin”. With repetitive in-bed screen exposure, the brain begins to get mixed messages about where and when to sleep, and then begins to associate the bed as a place of wakeful activity, rather than a place of sleep.

He recommends Family Zone as an excellent screen management platform that has been developed by Australian parents.

I hope you find this information helpful on sleep habits and if you require more information on sleep health, I would recommend you to visit:    www.sleepshack.com.au

Regards

Anthony Hudson

Manocha, E. D. (2017). Nurturing Young Minds.
 Sydney: Hachette Australia.