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

Just Posted

Blackmun Bay project in West Kelowna rejected by city councillors

Four nine-storey buildings with 700 residential and hotel units were originally planned for site along Campbell Road

‘Homes not shelters’: Those living on Kelowna streets rally for rights

On Tuesday, Leon Avenue residents came together to demand change

Two vehicle crash on Harvey Avenue

Traffic is slow going on Harvey Avenue near Cooper Road in Kelowna

Kelowna’s mayor questioned on transit, housing and quality of life

The luncheon was held at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna on Tuesday

Former Kelowna Mountie has breach of trust case moved again

The former Mountie is facing seven misconduct charges from incidents during his time as an officer

‘We love you, Alex!’: Trebek gets choked up by ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant’s answer

The emotional moment came in Monday’s episode when Trebek read Dhruv Gaur’s final answer

Birthday boy: Pettersson nets 2 as Canucks beat Predators

Vancouver ends four-game winless skid with 5-3 victory over Nashville

North Okanagan councillor pitches homeless camp at city hall

805 bylaw calls in 10 months were for inappropriately set-up camps

Vernon car fire deemed suspicious

SUV found fully engulfed with nobody around at 4 a.m. Tuesday on Commonage Road

Judge rejects Terrace man’s claim that someone else downloaded child porn on his phone

Marcus John Paquette argued that other people had used his phone, including his ex-wife

Penticton arts, culture and sports programs get boost of over $500,000 thanks to provincial grant

The B.C. Community Gaming Grants program will be distributing $505,900 to 18 local groups

Okanagan school districts reach agreement with CUPE Local 523

The union represents members who provide a variety of services to support students

North Okanagan motorists advised of road disruptions

Silver Star Road work scheduled for Thursday

Petition for free hospital parking presented to MP Jody Wilson-Raybould

What started as a B.C. campaign became a national issue, organizer said

Most Read