This decline in in-person classrooms may have the unintended consequence of depriving many Canadian high school students of sleep.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many teens were chronically sleep deprived during the week, putting them at risk of poor health and over-sleeping in the classroom.
The pandemic caused upheaval in schooling, but introduced some flexibility in scheduling that allowed some teens to catch up on their sleep.
Can we take advantage of this disruption to make evidence-based changes in education to improve teen sleep? Research suggests that doing so will help high school students have healthier and more productive years.
harmful effects of sleep deprivation
There is considerable concern about the harmful effects of sleep deprivation on teens, especially because teens are still developing.
In pre-pandemic times, international studies suggested that only two-thirds of Canadian teens were getting the eight to 10 hours of sleep on school nights recommended for 12 to 18-year-olds, and a worse one in many European countries. The picture was and the United States.
Inadequate sleep has been linked to a number of negative outcomes in youth, including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as a greater risk of depression, suicide and substance abuse. It has also been linked to deficits in attention and memory skills.
Importantly, research points to an important role for sleep in academic performance: Adolescents who get irregular or poor-quality sleep may have poorer grades and be absent or late more often. Chronic sleep deprivation can not only increase a young person’s risk for health challenges down the road, but can also potentially affect their career opportunities and future earning potential.
Ready to wake up two hours after adults
Sleep deprivation, recognized as a significant public health concern by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centers for Disease Control, is alarmingly common among adolescents.
Contributing to adolescents’ vulnerability to sleep deprivation is a conflict between traditional school early times (up to 8 a.m. in some parts of Canada) and the normal developmental changes in the sleep cycle that take the average teen to sleep and stay awake for about two hours. prepares for. Later than younger children and adults.
This mix also includes other factors such as teens’ greater freedom in choosing their bedtime and the use of light-emitting screens, which, when used in the evening, can disrupt nighttime sleep and delay the body’s internal clock. can.
Sleep researcher Mary Carskadon describes this combination of biological, behavioral and social influences as a “perfect storm” that creates prime conditions for teens to accumulate “sleep debt” during the school week. This gives many of them too much sleep to effectively attend class and leads to excessive sleepiness on weekends.
As a way to calm this storm, some school districts have experimented with later school start times. Overall, these experiments have been largely successful, with students reporting a longer night’s sleep and less sleep in the classroom with later start times.
In view of this evidence, organizations such as the American Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that high schools start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Other interventions, such as introducing sleep health education programs into the classroom, have also shown benefits for children and to a lesser extent for adolescents. For example, a study of Class 12 students showed that short-term, classroom-based educational programming improved students’ knowledge of the role of sleep in health. These students spent more time in bed over the weekend than students who did not receive programming. However, these benefits of participating in the program did not translate into changes that reduced the students’ daytime sleepiness.
Epidemic: over-sleeping, disrupted sleep
The conditions during the COVID-19 lockdown period opened a unique window to look at the sleeping patterns of adolescents, when students were no longer required to come to class. Several studies have shown that teens were sleeping more because they could sleep later in the morning, and felt more relaxed and alert during online schooling, suggesting that the extra sleep helped them engage in their studies. helped.
It’s important to note that other studies reported more disrupted sleep in some adolescents, which may be due to increased anxiety, depressed mood, and fewer chances to pass out.
However, having the opportunity to rest a little later in the morning can help teens overcome some of the effects of a disturbed night of sleep. Taken together, what we have learned is that teens are sleeping more and teen sleep is being disrupted during the pandemic, adding more evidence in favor of greater flexibility in school scheduling to improve adolescent sleep health.
pandemic schooling shift
While some schools have planned schedules to accommodate things like physical distancing and classroom bubbles, could this be an opportunity to test a delayed or flexible school start time?
For example, the staggered start time of school throughout the day, the dual benefit of allowing later-emergent students to start their school day a little later, and reducing the number of students in school at any one time may provide, thereby promoting physical distancing and perhaps better distribution of resources throughout the day.
School districts in some other parts of the world are rolling out this plan, and it will be exciting to see how scheduling changes.
Read more: How much sleep do teens really need?
However, policy change is slow, so what can be done now to improve the sleep health of teens? Adopting sleep recommendations can help lead to a healthy sleep routine.
Parents encourage teens to turn off screens at least one hour before bedtime, encourage regular periods of daylight outdoor activity, limit daytime caffeine intake (including energy drinks), and maintain a regular daily bedtime Can’t go wrong guiding you through the basics like trying to keep. Wake up time, even on weekends.
“Sleep on it!” There are also excellent bilingual resources available through campaigns like (Developed by the Canadian Sleep and Circadian Network), Canadian Sleep Society, Fondation Somel and Wake Up Narcolepsy Canada.