We often hear how food and physical activity are key to healthy youth. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that sleep is important too. Yet there is a whole series of recommendations concerning the number of hours of sleep each age group should get.
Children six to 13 years of age need between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers 14 to 17 years old should sleep between eight and 10 hours. Due to differences in genetic make-up, however, the number of hours of sleep needed can vary from one person to the next.
Sleep deprivation is becoming a bigger issue for teenagers. Do high school schedules lend themselves to a good night’s sleep for students? According to Professor Jean-Philippe Chaput of the Faculty of Medicine, “when we look at the biological make-up of adolescents, it’s normal for them to sleep and wake up later. It’s not normal (for them) to wake up early for class.”
This leads to another question. Is there a real need to change high school schedules? “Yes,” says Chaput. “(For students,) sleep deprivation particularly affects concentration and memory. We see that academic performance and success are greatly affected. A good sleep makes adolescents more able to study.”
Some studies show that there is an increase in the drop-out rate among sleep-deprived teenagers. Chaput says that delaying the start of classes by 30 minutes could make all the difference. Ideally, classes should start at nine.
In addition to interfering with learning, sleep deprivation can have a series of psychological and physical side effects. Chaput says that the psychological side effects for sleep-deprived adolescents can include mood swings and increased aggressive behaviour. As for physiological effects, they can include weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, greater probability of road accidents and even premature death. “The worst cases occur when bad sleep habits are maintained over the long term. There’s a difference between missing sleep once a week versus every day,” he says.
A large part of the population is not aware of the importance of sleep. “First, we have to talk about it,” says Chaput. Parents play an important role. “You have to have certain rules at home. So, no gadgets in the bedroom. In Canadian homes, more than 50% of people have a screen in the room where they sleep.” As well, “physical activity is beneficial. It’s the best ‘sleeping pill.’ Generally, people who are physically active every day sleep better.” Chaput recommends that parents exercise some control over their children’s hours of sleep. “You can’t control school schedules, but you can control bedtime.”