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Research says well-rested children and youth do better in school.
sleep improves memory and attention, so kids are better able to learn.
Well-rested children also have improved executive functioning, so
they’re better able to plan and can perform difficult tasks with greater
accuracy and speed.
children are also less irritable and impulsive, so they’re better able
to self-regulate and have improved mood. They’re also more physically
active, so are in better overall health.
sleep problems in kids are common, often minimized, ignored or (when
acknowledged) inadequately addressed. We need to change that.
So what’s disturbing the sleep of so many Canadian kids?
In a special issue of Sleep Medicine Journal, the
official publication of the World Association of Sleep Medicine,
dedicated to “Pediatric Sleep in Canada,” researchers document the
connections between sleep and the productivity, mental and physical
health of Canadian children and youth.
What happens when kids don’t get enough sleep?
who don’t sleep well frequently miss school; they try to sleep in or
they’re simply too tired and can’t make it to school.
they attend school, they have hard time focusing, remembering and
following teacher’s instructions, so their performance suffers. They’re
irritable and have difficulty regulating emotions, so they suffer from
higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Poor or insufficient sleep is also connected with higher suicide risks and drugs use.
terms of physical health, tired kids can find it hard to engage in
sports and are less physically active – and the less they’re active, the
worse sleep they have. It’s not surprising that data show connection
between sleep deprivation and obesity in children and adolescents.
when a child doesn’t sleep, the child’s parents are frequently unable
to sleep well, too, and they suffer – their marriage, work and quality
of life can all be affected.
But there’s good news. Healthy sleep can be obtained and maintained.
solutions aren’t necessarily complex. They require prioritizing healthy
sleep education in Canadian schools, targeting sleep health promotion
in public health campaigns and integrating sleep into health and social
services provided to children and their families as an integral part of
across the country have access to timely and proper diagnosis and care.
Evidence-based treatments for pediatric sleep disorders are effective,
including therapeutic measures like cognitive behavioural therapy and
controlled comforting, or medical interventions, like continuous
positive airway pressure, use of oral appliances or adenotonsillectomy
(an operation to remove both the adenoids and tonsils).
We need sufficient publicly funded resources allocated for both sleep diagnosis and services provided by experts.
also need to support healthy sleep education in schools and
school-based sleep promotion programs. Current research in Quebec shows
that school-based sleep health promotion is an effective means to
improve youth academic performance and well-being.
school start time by even 10 minutes has also shown to have a
significant positive impact on adolescents’ sleep and physical activity.
Health-care providers also need formal training regarding pediatric sleep. They currently receive little or no education in sleep medicine during their training.
89 per cent of Canadian pediatricians and family physicians surveyed
have recommended sedating medications to treat insomnia in youth. But
these medications are often not approved for use in this context and are
ineffective over the long term. Also, a recent study revealed that
about one-third of health practitioners reported providing advice for
behavioural sleep problems that could actually worsen the problem.
for sleep disturbances in the transition to school or during the first
years in school using easy-to-administer parent surveys could identify
children at risk of poor mental health or academic performance.
Similarly, sleep-related questions can be used to screen for adolescents
at risk of self-harm.
like this are vitally important. But we must also engage with
policy-makers at all levels of government to ensure that children and
families have access to sleep laboratories, sleep physicians and experts
when they need them.
And together, we need to generate community awareness on the importance of healthy sleep for our children and youth.