Dream class? Quebec high school introduces sleep to lesson plans this year

No, you’re not dreaming: tips to get great sleep are now part of the curriculum at one Quebec high school.

During everyday class material like science or math beginning this September, Johanne Boursier’s Grade 10 students at Heritage Regional High School in Saint-Hubert, Que. will be learning how to properly wind down for bed.

The new project is on the heels of new research published in the journal Sleep Medicine earlier this year that advocated for more sleep education in schools.

Boursier had a hand in in the research after she enlisted her students as willing guinea pigs.

About four years ago, the high school French and ethics teacher began noticing that drowsiness among her students had become more prevalent than she’d ever seen. And this lack of sleep was hurting her students’ performances in the classroom.

“I was observing different behaviours such as stress, anxiety, sleepiness in my classes -- a lot more than in previous years,” the teacher, with more than 23 years’ experience, told CTV News Channel, adding that students would complain about sleepiness too.

Beyond finding difficulty recalling old information for tests, she said a “lack of sleep will impact your capacity to memorize new information, (and) to understand new concepts and retain information.”

From the slackers to the high achievers, she explained that all her students were affected by a lack of sleep and this was leading to a spike in mental health issues such as anxiety.

“It’s impacting the students who are highly motivated because they get stressed if they don’t sleep enough and their marks go down and then the anxiety goes up,” Boursier said. “It’s kind of a vicious circle they’re caught in.”


MARKS WENT UP WITH BETTER SLEEP

So, using surveys and data from sleep monitors that 75 children wore before they went to bed, McGill University associate psychiatry professor and pediatric sleep expert Reut Gruber assessed the children’s sleeping patterns.

Then, in the classroom, Boursier went over the impacts of good and bad sleep and the mitigating factors to each. Gruber found that after the children had these lessons they’d end up getting better sleep and doing better in school.

“Some of these students took what they learned, made some changes and their marks actually went up,” she said. Through the surveys, she and Gruber realized that nearly 75 per cent of students had sleep struggles.

She stressed that learning how to combat sleep hygiene and deprivation should be as essential to school curriculums as lessons on physical exercise and nutrition. For her own part, she’ll be introducing sleep vocabulary in her French classes beginning this year.

Gruber, who’s also director of the Attention, Behaviour and Sleep Laboratory at the Douglas Research Centre, went on to publish the findings this year. His team urged that better sleep lead to better regulating of mood and emotions in children.

The new research confirmed previous studies that found the use of smartphones and handheld devices before bed played a big part in impacting children’s sleep and anxiety.

“But sometimes they (children) can’t go to sleep, so they’ll start watching a movie and then they go to sleep two hours later,” Boursier said, explaining this can eat into students’ sleep time.

The issue of sleep deprivation is not an isolated issue for Boursier’s students.

According to statistics from the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in four children in Canada aren’t getting the minimum recommended amount of sleep, with a third of them having trouble going or staying asleep. Canadian guidelines laid out by Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that children five to 13 should be getting between nine and 11 hours of sleep (teens 14 to 17 years old should be getting least eight hours of sleep).

In the near future, Gruber will be figuring out how school psychologists to better pick up on signs of sleep disorders.