Researchers turn to classroom to help teens overcome costly sleep woes

Study examines how teaching children sleep awareness can improve well-being and academics

It was hard for Johanne Boursier to ignore the tired faces looking back at her from her vantage point at the front of the classroom.

The Grade 10 French teacher at Heritage Regional High School, south of Montreal, had noticed a downward trend in recent years unlike anything the 22-year veteran had seen before.

So when she heard of the “Sleep for Success” study undertaken at her school board, she jumped at the chance to incorporate good sleep habits into her teaching. The study is examining how teaching children sleep awareness can improve their well-being and their academic performance.

READ MORE: Social media and devices blamed for poor sleep

“I had been noticing a shift in my students in the past two years, how tired they were, how anxious they were,” Boursier said in a recent interview. “A lot of the patterns were changing drastically, so I was hoping to find some answers by involving myself in the research.”

Boursier always suspected poor sleep was an underlying factor, but she was astounded when she asked students in one of her classes for a quick show of hands and found that just three of 32 students reported having no sleep issues.

The impact is plain to see, Boursier said.

She’s seen a spike in anxiety in recent years — panic attacks to the point where students would pass out in class, necessitating an ambulance. Boursier also noted the number of suicide attempts at her school has increased. And students display a serious lack of reading comprehension.

READ MORE: Teaching strategies to deal with anxiety

“They read but they can’t retain the information, because they’re not focusing properly,” she said. “Their brain is so tired they can’t retain what they’re reading.”

The educator said lack of sleep is top of mind for her colleagues, and she suspects the same is true elsewhere in the country.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, children between the ages of six and 12 should be getting from nine to 12 hours sleep nightly, while teenagers need between eight and 10 hours.

But Reut Gruber, a clinical child psychologist and pediatric sleep expert at the Douglas Research Centre in Montreal who designed the project taught by Boursier, said it’s no secret that many kids fall well short of those guidelines.

“Depending on numbers and what surveys you look at, one-third to one-half of Canadian students do not get what we consider to be the recommended amount of sleep,” said Gruber, who is also a McGill University medicine professor.

READ MORE: World Sleep Day — UBC team examines link between sleep and illness

Gruber said students observed at the Riverside School Board in recent years exhibited serious sleep woes: 50 to 75 per cent had difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep, and a significant number couldn’t function during the day because they were too sleepy.

“We all know it’s prevalent, but this was more extreme, to be honest, than what we expected,” Gruber said. “We were quite astounded by that — this was the kind of factor that contributed to the sense of urgency that we absolutely have to do something about it.”

Students in Boursier’s class fill out an extensive survey and wear a watch for a week that registers their sleep patterns.

After that, Boursier will incorporate some discussion and tips into her teachings about what affects their sleep positively and negatively and the difference between good sleep and bad sleep.

One major factor that’s arisen is the misuse of such technology as smart phones and tablets.

“They can’t get to sleep, so they’ll start watching a movie on Netflix instead and only go to bed two hours later,” Boursier said. ”They’ve lost those sleep hours, and they can’t make it up.”

READ MORE: Apple rolls out new streaming TV service for $5 a month

Class discussion centres on keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom, the impact of phone lights on melatonin levels, maintaining a regular bedtime that doesn’t deviate on weekends and the pitfalls of napping.

Students are tested after the lessons to measure any changes.

“What she (Gruber) found out (over the years) is that some of the students who made changes to their habits, their marks actually went up,” Boursier said.

Boursier’s class is the only one taking part this year, but there are hopes of extending the program to other classes.

“What we hope is that if we can at least address some of the issues on the side of sleep, maybe this will allow us to see some improvement in the mental health of the students,” Gruber said.

She said sleep should be a part of the classroom discussion much like healthy eating or physical education.

“It really depends on policy-makers, but we really hope it will be extended and implemented in other places, either here in Quebec or other places,” Gruber said. “We’re kind of paving the way for this.”

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Residents treated for smoke inhalation after fire in Maple Ridge building

Fire took place in the 11800 block of Laity Street

Muse proceeds with cannabis store in Westgate Shopping Centre

Private retail store would be within 1,000m of proposed government store in Maple Ridge

VIDEO: Person falls from roof in Maple Ridge

Air ambulance was called but victim taken by ground instead

Friends do ‘amazing’ home makeover for retired police officer

Pitt Meadows RCMP veteran was away getting treatment for PTSD

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Displaced tenant ‘heartbroken’ to find Langley City condo robbed after fire

Wedding rings of Michelle Buchan’s have since been recovered, but much is still missing

Canucks fan risks life to celebrate at Surrey intersection

‘All fun and games until somebody falls out an open side door of the van’

Most Read