It’s Time for a Wake-Up Call for Youth to Catch Some Z’s

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? URL:

Martiquet, P. (2016). Youth likely not getting enough sleep. Vancouver Coastal Health. URL:

ParticipACTION. Archived Report Cards. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2016. URL:

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 Metabolism36(1), 36-46.

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4 Responses to It’s Time for a Wake-Up Call for Youth to Catch Some Z’s

  1. natgatien says:

    Great post Tara! Sleep is something I never really thought about for youth development, even though it is very important. You mentioned how physical activity is important factor for youth to be involved in to get an adequate sleep at night, and that technology plays a big role in this. Another thing to consider are the over-involved parents (mentioned in class) especially living in rural areas who live far away from the soccer fields, areas, gyms and other places. These parents constantly have their children involved in sports or recreation all day, and I also think it agrees with your post. These children do not get enough sleep either, because their over-scheduled by their parents and living in rural areas means waking up earlier to get to the soccer fields, areas, gyms and other places on time. Therefore, these children’s development is impacted as well, and it can relate to mental health issues like you mentioned. These children may get enough physical activity a day, but definitely not enough sleep, and I agree with you, that it is time for a wake up call for youth to catch some Z’s.

    Natalie G.

  2. emmastone18 says:

    Tara, awesome blog post!
    I think what you are saying is so true for youth today. Technology is everywhere in our lives, its almost like we cannot escape it. I am also at fault for losing sleep because I am on social media before bed just scrolling through things that really have no importance to me. Often times during the day I think “I need to get my sleep schedule on track or I could become sleep deprived, more than I already am”. If I am someone who knows that sleep is good for me and even I am not getting enough, then what can we expect from youth?

    Getting adequate sleep is more important than just feeling awake during the day. It plays into your attention span and your mental health. If youth are not able to pay attention during class and learn the material being taught then this may have negative consequences later in life. Being sleep deprived may also have negative consequences on mental health because it may be harder to cope with life adversities. Things that may not be a big deal when you are well rested may feel like the end of the world when you are functioning on very little sleep. We need to make sure that youth are aware of the importance that sleep will have on their health.

    As important as I believe it is to educate youth on the importance of sleep and the benefits that can be gained from having a proper nights sleep. I think we should also focus on providing youth with fun physical activity options. If we can get more kids active, then hopefully we can reverse this downward spiral of youth not getting enough sleep that then leads to kids not being physically active during the day. If we can provide youth with fun activities that they enjoy then this will hopefully get them moving and they will be tired at night to get a good nights sleep.

    Emma S.

  3. taylorhebb16 says:

    Great post about sleep Tara,
    It made me think a lot about my sleep schedule and how I need to adjust some unhealthy habits I’ve developed. It doesn’t surprise me that youth are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. An experience I’ve been apart of that relates to the lost of sleep youth are receiving, is when I babysat a young boy. While babysitting I took notice that he had a different bed time routine compared to mine when I was his age. My routine involved a bed time snack eaten at the kitchen table, then I brushed my teeth and had one bedtime story. His was a bed time snack while watching tv, then he brushed his teeth and while laying in bed he watched a movie on his iPad. I was surprized when the parents told me this because I thought of how it may affect his sleep schedule.
    I watched the TED talk you provided in your blog and it made me understand how important sleep really is for your health. The world is extremely busy even for the lives of youth. With the early hockey practices and then school all day followed by more practices or lessons. Finally going home for dinner and finishing up homework no wonder children are tired. With this it raises the question, because youth are tired from the amount of activities they are involved with and the lost of sleep they receive could this be the reason free play is diminishing? Children could be too tired to be involved in play when its just easier to sit and play on an iPad. This is where the cycle begins; children lay in bed playing on their iPad staying up too late trying to finish a game.
    Being tired can affect multiple skills youth are trying to develop. As stated in the TED talk it can affect the brain in how it develops, but it also can affect different life skills youth develop when participating in school or sports. It can affect their external assets such as boundaries, expectations and internal assets like commitment to learning, social competences, positive value and positive identity.

  4. bleblan3 says:

    Hey Tara ! Superbly worded and thanks for the video.
    I wanted to take a second and throw some science into the mix just for the sake of it. Sleep in individuals under the age of 25 can be described under two categories, acute total sleep deprivation, and chronic partial sleep restriction. Sleep deprivation is classified under a spectrum more-like and I’m astonished as to how many youth are affected. I’m sure you know of REM sleep and the need for it, but what a lot of people don’t know is that the less REM sleep we experience in a normal day to day rhythm, the faster we are bound for REM sleep in the future. Melatonin, dopamine, even glucose levels are all suddenly out of whack and what can pose to be dangerous is that this can actually stunt growth and cause hormone deficiencies in children going through puberty.
    I agree with you that both physical activity and technology play a huge role but personally I believe it is caused by something much more specific. I would like to imagine a world I could boil this down to two things; sustenance, and authority. In today’s culture, a lot of youth are being socialized into a world where they need to be sustained long enough whether it be from social media, video games, or purely just something to maintain their attention span long enough they feel comfortable and not stressed.
    Authority plays a huge role too, looking at it from a young adult perspective it is hard to imagine adults being afraid of their children but that is becoming all the more real the longer we go without addressing it. With the information of the world at our finger tips, the power one may hold just through social media alone, and the judgments made on children simply pass those bad habits along.
    Personally I believe that this needs to be addressed in a fashion that attacks both of these fronts and we see a shift. A lot of the issue falls on us because we really just see this as a problem and do not look at it from their point of view: they don’t know any better. Curfews, bed times, moderation of the industry, so many things can be done but it is becoming further from the norm to do these things and that is where we need to start.
    Again, thanks for the video, it has some pretty interesting related videos as well!
    -Ben LeBlanc

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