News / Edmonton

Schools should catch up on sleep education: U of A researcher

Promoting healthy sleep habits in schools is crucial as kids get less and less shut-eye, according to Kate Storey

An Edmonton public health researcher says schools should do more to promote healthy sleeping habits.

Dreamstime / File

An Edmonton public health researcher says schools should do more to promote healthy sleeping habits.

Schools can help shift a culture that increasingly devalues sleep, according to a public health researcher at the University of Alberta.

Kate Storey says most kids are not getting enough sleep, and promoting good sleeping habits in schools may be the key to changing that.

“This is in many ways a result of our current modern lifestyle. So a combination of technology and the lack of value of sleep, meaning that we tend to value the more we get done the better (and) perfectionism culture – moving, moving, doing, doing and programming, programing,” Storey said.

“Kids are sleeping less and less and it is a public health issue, and we need to take a public health approach. Because it’s not just a few kids that are sleep deprived. There’s many.”

Canadian health guidelines recommend 10-13 hours of daily sleep for 3-4-year-olds, 9-11 hours for 5-13-year-olds and 8-10 hours for 14-17-year-olds.

A 2016 ParticipAction Study reported that nearly one in three 10-13-year-olds and more than a quarter of teenagers don’t meet those targets.

Additionally, close to 70 per cent of teens reported often being “very sleepy” during their morning classes.

Evidence suggests sleep has declined among youth in recent decades.

Storey said smartphones increasingly play a role, and that merely having a smartphone in the bedroom is linked to shorter sleep duration and lower sleep quality.

While kids could once leave bullying incidents and bad school days behind when they got home, social media makes negative experiences harder to escape.

“Kids might be waiting or hoping that something doesn’t come through on social media, be it bullying or other issues that come up in youth’s lives,” she said. “If you have a phone near your bed, you might be thinking about it even if you don’t know you’re thinking about it.”

Storey said lack of sleep can impact impact students’ diet and physical activity levels, behavior, attention span and cognitive abilities like problem solving. 

She said schools have made a push toward physical activity and healthy eating in recent years, but promotion of good sleeping habits has been largely ignored.

“Just ask any teacher how easy it is to teach a kid that’s falling asleep in class. It’s nearly impossible,” she said.

Storey is advocating for sleeping habits to be embedded in all subject matter, instead of just the health curriculum. For example, a question in math could use graphs about sleep statistics to spark a conversation.

She said schools could also focus on giving kids more daylight hours and outside time, which are factors that can help get a good night’s sleep.

Ultimately, she said, it is children more than parents who need to get the message.

“You would be shocked at how receptive and how interested they are in taking control,” she said.

Storey will give a public lecture on the topic at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy Thursday at 5 p.m.

More on