Sleep expert Michael Chee tells It Figures that starting school later could be one solution.
SINGAPORE: Only about 20 per cent of teenagers from top schools in Singapore get enough sleep, according a new study by the Duke-NUS Medical School.
About 2,000 students from several top secondary schools and junior colleges responded to a survey by the researchers. At one junior college, over half the students surveyed said they slept less than six hours a night.
For 14 to 17-year-olds, the recommended amount of sleep is eight to 10 hours a night. Teens who sleep less tend to have poorer cognitive skills and worse grades than their well-rested peers, according to Professor Michael Chee, director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke-NUS.
“They invest a lot of time studying, and sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation and learning. If you don’t sleep, it is like building a sandcastle and then have the tide take it out,” said Prof Chee in an interview with Channel NewsAsia’s It Figures programme.
The latest episode, which premieres Monday (Oct 17) at 8pm, explores the problem of sleep-deprivation among Singaporeans, who have been reported in recent years to be among the world’s most short on sleep.
WATCH: When teens are sleep-deprived
Besides affecting performance, sleep deprivation also impacts teenagers’ moods. “I think the parents of many kids who don’t sleep enough notice that they are perennially reactive, they get angry easily, they are in a foul mood,” said Dr Chee.
When they grow older, sleep deprived teenagers may be at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease.
So what’s keeping students from their sleep? Heavy school schedules and the excessive use of mobile devices are the main culprits, according to the study.
Prof Chee also added that students themselves don’t value sleep enough, which is why there needs to be more education on the importance of sleep, he said.
But he also proposed that school be allowed to start later, so as to match teenagers’ circadian rhythm. During puberty, their body clock shifts, delaying the time they feel sleepy. This is because melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is released later.
“The fact that teenagers like to sleep later is not because of some fad, it’s driven by biology,” noted Prof Chee. “If their bodies prefer to sleep later, it doesn’t make sense to make them wake up the same time a primary school kid wakes up.”
MORE SLEEP DISORDER PATIENTS
Still, it is not just teenagers - insufficient sleep is affecting many Singaporeans, young and old.
A 2015 study by Nanyang Technological University found that four in 10 children between 6 and 9 years of age are sleep deprived. Singapore has also rated as one of the most sleep-deprived countries in global surveys in recent years.
Indeed, the sleep disorders unit at the Singapore General Hospital saw a 64 per cent increase in patients between 2011 and 2015.
Doctors attribute this to the hectic pace of life, pressures at work and social life, but also a greater public awareness of sleep disorders. Other surveys in recent years also showed Singapore as having among the longest working hours in the world.
Catch It Figures on Mondays, at 8pm, on Channel NewsAsia.