27 Nov 2020

Letter to parent about sleep

Dear Parents and Guardians

It has concerned me for a long while that a large number of our students have insufficient sleep and in writing to you I am hoping that together we can address this.  

This issue has no easy or quick solution but it is about educating students and supporting them to put what they learn into practice because good sleep is a cornerstone of wellbeing.  Some of our students are also ill informed about sleep. Examples of their views about sleep include that it is possible to cheat on the amount of sleep, that individuals can train themselves to manage on less sleep and that they can ‘bank’ sleep. We tell students that, in fact, during sleep, the brain remains active, gets “recharged,” and still controls many body functions, including breathing.

My colleagues and I repeatedly hear from our students that they return from school in the afternoon and go to bed for several hours of sleep.  They then have a meal and begin home learning, sometimes as late as 10:00 or 11:00 pm, so that they don’t go back to bed until the early hours of the morning.  Here are a few reasons these poor sleep patterns are a problem for our students.  They –

  • Impair memory and reduce cognitive abilities. If sleep deprivation persists, it can cause mood swings and impaired judgment. Research suggests memory consolidation takes place during sleep through strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories.
  • Cause fatigue.  This may increase the risk of injury and accidents. 
  • Result in a lack of motivation and concentration. Focus, attention and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Interpretation of events may be affected. We lose ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess situations, plan accordingly and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired. 
  • Result in neurons not firing optimally, muscles are not rested and the body’s organ systems are not synchronized. Overworked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
  • Contribute to health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early mortality.

International research is unequivocal.  Our students need between eight and ten hours of sleep every night. 

We are aware that there are various contributors to a lack of sleep, such as –

home learning, the onset of puberty (shifting sleep patterns), light from electronic devices which suppresses melatonin, peer pressure, late-night socializing via social media, stress, underdeveloped self-restraint and time awareness.  Other factors include no regular sleep routine, eating too late and insufficient exercise. 

How you can help – 

Please speak with your child(ren) so they understand why sleep is so vital. Model healthy, consistent sleep practices in the family.  Remind children that sleep cannot be substituted or ignored.  Enforce bedtimes strictly and set a time earlier to turn off all electronics. Even a few nights of reduced sleep can produce sizable impacts on the emotions, cognitive processing and memory. Keep all electronic devices and work materials out of bedrooms to strengthen the mental association between this room, and sleep.  Implement soothing pre-sleep routines, like reading and keep pets out of bedrooms.

One of the most eminent experts in the field of sleep is Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science and has featured on numerous television and radio outlets, including CBS 60 Minutes, National Geographic Channel, NOVA Science, NRP and the BBC. Here is a link to a TEDTalk from Professor Walker.  Why Sleep Matters Now More than Ever (TED Talk)   He has compelling things to say about the significance of sleep.

Your children are precious to us.  We want them to be well, safe, happy and resilient.  We also want them to optimise the opportunities on offer but unless they sleep, this cannot happen. 

Thank you so much for supporting us in our endeavours to educate about sleep.

Warm wishes

Christine Rowlands

Vice Principal

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