by Tara G.
I bet you won’t believe me when I say that 31% of school-aged children and 26% of adolescents in Canada are sleep deprived (ParticipACTION, 2016). Another astonishing fact is that in recent decades, children’s nightly sleep duration has decreased by about 30 to 60 minutes- but how can this be?
The most important question is: why?
My first thought, as most of you may have considered was technology. It makes perfect sense. In today’s modern society we, including myself, have all fallen victim of losing track of the time prior to going to sleep. Whether it is from checking our phones, watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc.- all of us, including youth, are culprit of losing some Z’s at night for these very reasons. Although this does factor in as to why youth are losing sleep at night, there is another more imposing factor that we must consider: youth are not getting enough physical activity.
According to ParticipACTION, “Many kids are too tired to get enough physical activity during the day, and are not active enough to be tired at night- it’s a vicious cycle” (2016). In other words, our youth are not tired enough to even go to bed at night due to a lack of exercise. Yes, technology and being inside all day can cause youth to not be physically active. However, for that very reason is the answer as to why our youth actually don’t want to be physically active- they are sleep deprived. It is a chain reaction of factors at hand, and that is what is causing such a “wicked problem”.
In terms of the development of youth, why is sleep important? If we think about youth or anyone for that matter, we need sleep. Sleep is food for our brains. According to Dr. Martiquet from the Adolescent Health Surveys (AHS), “the National Sleep Foundation recommends that youth and adolescents have at least 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night” (2016). Sleep provides time for many body functions and brain activity to occur. This means that skipping sleep can be very harmful and detrimental to youth’s development. A lack of sleep can affect youth’s mental health leading to a variety of concerns such as substance abuse, sedentary lifestyle, injuries, depression, social exclusion, inactivity, etc. (Martiquet, 2016). In other words, the development of youth’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical functioning is entirely dependant on adequate sleep at night.
When I think back to my own personal experience growing up as a young athlete, it was engrained in my mind by my coaches and parents that sleep is the upmost importance. If you don’t sleep, you can’t perform. Luckily, I never really had to worry about that, as I would come home from a long day of school and whichever activity was scheduled for that day- I would be absolutely exhausted. I had that advantage over other youth. I also knew that if I didn’t sleep enough, my performance would hinder which is the worst possible outcome for a young athlete who constantly strives to please. However, not all youth are high performance athletes so we need to find other means in getting youth out of this vicious cycle of living a sedentary lifestyle.
What we need to do as specialists within the field of Sports and Recreation is educate our youth the importance of physical activity. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and youth need to accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every day (Tremblay, Warburton, Janssen, & et al., 2011). Specifically, our educators need to ensure that youth is getting the allotted amount of physical activity that they need in order to actually be tired at night. If our youth in Canada can sit less and be more active, we will all sleep better at night.
It’s time for a wake up call.
For your convenience, if you want to learn more about the importance of sleep, above is an interesting video spoken by Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist specialist. An interesting statement he makes is that the average person sleeps roughly one-third of their entire life. This in itself tells us that sleep must be important (TEDtalk, 2013).
Foster, R. (2013). Why do we sleep? TEDtalk.com. URL: https://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep#t-50018.
Martiquet, P. (2016). Youth likely not getting enough sleep. Vancouver Coastal Health. URL: http://www.vch.ca/about-us/news/youth-likely-not-getting-enough-sleep.
ParticipACTION. Archived Report Cards. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2016. URL: http://www.participACTION.com/reportcard.
Tremblay, M. S., Warburton, D. E., Janssen, I., Paterson, D. H., Latimer, A. E., Rhodes, R. E., … & Murumets, K. (2011). New Canadian physical activity guidelines. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 36(1), 36-46.