Mindset shift needed for better sleep
Experts, parents say children here aren't sleeping enough and it is a severe problem
Student Chai Yu Han is 13 and gets around five to six hours of sleep a night.
She claims to have no problems concentrating at school but admits she has dark circles under her eyes and would sleep more if she could.
Huang Ziwei, also 13, gets about six to seven hours of sleep a night.
Neither is getting the nine to 11 hours of sleep for children that age as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, a global organisation for sleep health.
As the June school holidays end and a new semester starts today, parents and experts say that children in Singapore are not sleeping enough and it is a severe problem.
In 2015, a survey done by Nanyang Technological University students showed that about four in 10 of the primary school pupils involved in the poll showed signs of sleep deprivation and nearly half fell asleep while commuting on transport.
The workload at school goes up at that age. They also get more autonomous and out of their parents’ radar. For teenagers who are having problems trying to keep up in school, they might regularly wake up at night to study.Dr Michael Chee, on why there is up to one hour drop in sleep duration when students transition from lower to upper secondary
Singapore's "sleep record" internationally is not great. In 2014, the Republic was ranked the third most sleep-deprived out of nearly 45 cities, in a study done by Jawbone, a maker of wristbands that tracks sleep patterns.
Yu Han, a Secondary 1 student, told The New Paper that the two things preventing her from sleeping more are homework and mobile phone usage.
She said: "If I were to focus, perhaps I could sleep early. But sometimes I procrastinate on my homework or I drag time out before I sleep by chatting with others, even after I have finished my homework."
Ziwei added: "I feel that decreasing the workload on students can be beneficial to their sleep cycle."
Once, he stayed up till 2am to finish an essay.
Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet agreed that the draw of technological devices and the workload of students prevent them from sleeping more.
She had a 17-year-old client who slept less than three hours a night because she was struggling with her schoolwork.
After finishing her work, she would chat with friends online to unwind.
Another client, who is in primary school, slept only five to six hours because he would play computer games after studying.
Dr Michael Chee, professor and director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke-NUS Medical School, said there is an up to one hour drop in sleep duration when students transition from lower to upper secondary.
He said: "The workload at school goes up at that age. They also get more autonomous and out of their parents' radar.
"Teenagers who are having problems trying to keep up in school might regularly wake up at night to study."
But more than anything, Dr Chee said the culture and social attitudes towards sleep form the main problem.
He said: "Most people only want to know what the minimum amount of sleep they can get away with is. That is not the right perspective.
"The main thing I want to get across is: Good sleep is a nice thing. If you want to realise your full potential in terms of clarity of mind and well-being, you will have to work at it."
Dr Chee mostly wants to target secondary school students, educating them on the importance of sleep and spreading awareness of the benefits of starting school later.
In a 2016 study his team did on a local school that started 45 minutes later, the students slept more and were more alert in class.
Dr Chee said: "Without sleep, you become inefficient, both in the encoding and consolidation of memories.
"Students aged from 13 to about 19 get six hours of sleep on average, and it is well below the recommendation.
"There is a multi-billion-dollar healthcare price tag on that."
He added: "It is cumulative in effect. If you don't sleep well when you are young, it is a habit and later even when you want to sleep, you might not be able to do so."
Rather than blaming technology, Dr Chee said it is a mindset change that is needed, to get Singaporeans to value sleep rather than focusing on how little sleep they can get away with.
He added: "You sleep better for yourself because you are going to benefit from it."
As for what parents can do, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "Establishing a routine for sleeping time would be helpful."
The Therapy Room's principal psychologist Geraldine Tan agreed, saying: "I often encourage parents to have a night routine to cue the child's body and brain to wind down and go to bed.
"Sleep hygiene is important and strictly no phones or devices should be on the beds."
Retiree Peter Tan, 50, who has two children aged 11 and 13, said: "I encourage them to turn off the lights if possible by 10pm so they get about 71/2 hours of sleep."
He added: "Long commutes, increasing homework and mobile phones contribute to late sleeping hours.
"I think as a society we need to evaluate how best we can improve our children's sleep time and (its) quality."
A day in the life of a teenager
A day in the life of a 13-year-old secondary school student, who gets an average of less than seven hours of sleep a night, whom we shall call June.
- 5.45am: Wake up and get ready for school
- 7.30am: Arrive at school in time for the day's classes
- 2.30pm: School day ends
- 2.30pm to 6pm: Co-curricular activity (CCA) twice a week
- 6pm-7.30pm: Commute home, which is quite far from the school
- 7.30pm-7.55pm: Shower and unwind
- 8.20pm-10pm or 11pm: Homework, rest and interaction with family members
- 10pm-11.30pm: Get ready to sleep.
Time she gets in bed depends on how much she feels like sleeping and how much homework she has that day. On non-CCA days, she might stay back after school for other activities. These activities could end any time between 3pm and 6pm. Occasionally, she sleeps at 10pm, but she usually sleeps at 11pm and at times even later. - SUE-ANN TAN
Singapore’s survey on children's sleep habits
In 2015, four Nanyang Technological University students released the results of a survey of more than 300 parents to study the sleeping habits of those aged six to nine.
The study was part of a social campaign called The Pillow Police, done in collaboration with the National University Hospital.
Here are the results:
- Four in 10 show signs of sleep deprivation, feeling sleepy during the daytime
- Almost half fall asleep while commuting
- More than half sleep an average of eight hours or less, below the recommended number of hours for children of that age
- Seven in 10 watch television an hour before bedtime
- One in three do not have a bedtime routine
- One in 10 parents recognise the child might have problems with sleep. - SUE-ANN TAN
Amount of sleep people at different ages need
Recommended by National Sleep Foundation, a US-based global voice for sleep health
- Infants (4-11 months old): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years old): 11 to 14 hours
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 years old): 10 to 13 hours
- Primary-schoolers (6-13 years old): Nine to 11 hours
* Less than seven hours or more than 12 hours not recommended
- Teenagers (14-17 years old): Eight to 10 hours
* Less than seven hours or more than 11 hours not recommended
- Young adults (18-25 years old): Seven to nine hours
* Less than six hours or more than 11 hours not recommended
- Adults (26 years old onwards): Seven to nine hours
* Less than six hours or more than 10 hours not recommended - SUE-ANN TAN