Can it Really be that Simple?

April 29, 2019 - 6 minutes read

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the District PAC presentation, “Dreaming of Great Sleep for your Family?” featuring Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Dr. Mark Lysyshyn. Both have a wealth of background knowledge on the topic, but come to it from different fields. Dr. Schonert-Reichl is a professor at the University of British Columbia world renowned for her work in the area of social emotional learning and child development. Dr. Lysyshyn is a physician and the Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

The entire presentation was very informative and engaging; but, it left me wondering is it really that simple?

First of all, they made the case using local, provincial, and national data that our kids are sleep deprived.

  • -60% of our kids are reporting that they feel tired going to school
  • -31% of grade 4 students in West Vancouver reported getting a good night sleep less than half the time
  • -42% of grade 7 students in West Vancouver reported getting a good night sleep less than half the time

Not only are children not getting enough sleep but neither are the parents. The effects of a lack of sleep are quite well documented. Some of the effects that are of particular concern for our children include:

  • -Judgement and concentration are impaired
  • -The immune system is suppressed, increasing risk of illness
  • -Emotions are heightened, causing irritability, anger, and/or anxiety
  • -Chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents diminishes the brain’s ability to learn new information

Students who report getting a good night’s sleep more often, also report higher overall well-being. So, is it really that simple? If we get more sleep, we will have greater well-being. But simple isn’t always easy.

What struck me most was that improving our sleep had very little to do with sleep. As anyone who’s had a sleepless night knows, it is really hard to focus on getting to sleep by focusing on going to sleep! So what can we do to get more sleep?

Of course, there are the things we all know and have heard before:

  • -Ensure we have a regular bedtime routine
  • -No electronics at least an hour before bed
  • -Avoid caffeine and big meals close to bedtime

There was one statement that both presenters stressed. To me, this was a game changer and it seemed so simple: It’s not about the hour before bed that is important for good sleep, it is the 24 hours in our day. Participaction has published the 24 Hour Movement Guidelines: an integration of movement, sleep, and sedentary guidelines. The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth (ages 5-17 years) are the first evidence-based guidelines to address the whole day. Kids are inactive and may be losing sleep over it. They aren’t moving enough to be tired, and they may also be too tired to move.

Research strongly shows the need for a new movement paradigm that emphasizes the integration of all movement behaviours occurring over a whole day, shifting the focus from the individual components to emphasize the whole. The new guidelines encourage Children and Youth to “Sweat, Step, Sleep and Sit” the right amounts for a healthy 24 hours.

According to the guidelines children should sweat (moderate to vigorous physical activity) for at least 60 minutes per day. They should step (light physical activity) for several hours throughout the day, They should sleep for 9-11 hours uninterrupted. And they should sit for no more than two hours (screen time included).

It seems simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy. Building new habits takes time, but our health is worth it. At West Bay we are taking a look at these new guidelines and how we can incorporate these elements into what we do each and every day in our school. We can teach our students about the importance of these four connected components, we can model good physical health, and we can make sure during the six hours we have our students that they are moving often. We have also been providing our students with opportunities to try new activities, we just wrapped up a two week session with the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club who taught all our Kindergarten to grade 4 students, we’ve had dance classes, martial arts, curling, table tennis and many other programs to encourage our students to develop an active lifestyle.

I encourage you to think of small habits that you can incorporate into your routines to increase overall wellness. Go for a hike once a week, walk the family dog each night after dinner, drop in at the pool during family swim times, play laser tag as a family or go bowling. It seems simple, but maybe we will all sleep a little better!