Sleep patterns among adolescents by Louis Capstick, Toby Robinson, and Nate Swidler

 

Rationale

The ultimate objective of our survey is to find out the extent of the sleeping habits that boys have at the school as well as the potential reasons behind this. Not getting enough sleep is a problem we have experienced first hand and as individuals affected by it we have further motivation to try and see whether this is a collective problem and if so, try to address the issue. We have considered that the reasons for lack of sleep will differ greatly between year groups, but there might be common patterns and trends that can be observed through our data collection. Lack of sleep remains a significant issue in adolescents and we think it should become a priority of boarding schools when it comes to wellbeing.

 

Most of the research on this topic concerns students attending day schools, and so we are trying to bridge the gap between the scientific theory and our experiences, as well as the experiences of other boys here at Eton. Our position is quite a unique one; we can associate with the problems ourselves, and the results we find will be innovative for the area of research. To illustrate this topic, we rely on the honesty of the boys, who know their information is anonymous, and we hope to help bring about beneficial change. Our report contains a detailed description of the research design, the methodology we used and potential limitations of our study. We conclude with recommendations and a discussion which places our work within the wider literature.

Ethical considerations

One of the primary foci of our survey was that it was ​entirely ​anonymous; the only personal information our applicants had to provide was which school year they were in, so that we could connect certain trends in the data with certain year groups. The anonymity of the questionnaire was emphasised both during development and the in email sent to the students along with the survey itself. We used a randomisation algorithm on the internet in order to randomly select 2 students from each year block , our boarding house, for the pilot survey. We randomised the selection so that our choices would not be influenced by our own personal biases.Our school-wide survey was optional and open to all students at Eton.

Methodology

Our main data collection tool was a short, ten question survey sent out to all members of the five blocks of boys at Eton. Our questionnaire was composed primarily of quantitative questions; however also included some qualitative questions (“Do you have any suggestions for how the school could better promote healthy sleeping habits?”). We used SurveyMonkey to send out the survey as it contains tools which quantify the data and shows clear trends. 

Scope and limitations

Due to the time frame of the survey’s school-wide release, the results of those students in D and B Block will likely by warped. While time management is a skill that influences sleeping patterns, most of the candidates who were taking exams at the time of the survey’s completion would have undoubtedly been either waking up earlier or staying up later than those who are not, regardless of age. Hence, some of the data collected for these respective age groups may have been skewed as a result of this, and this context should be taken into account when both analysing the results and reading the report. This survey only assessed the sleeping patterns of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18; this is simply owing to the age of the peer group at Eton College. The reader should bear in mind that the study is based on a school-wide survey of students at Eton College only; no further interviews of candidates occurred and thus all analysis done and conclusions made are based on the questions answered in the survey.

Adolescent sleep patterns and how they affect welfare

The Youth Risk Surveillance System Survey, a census of 12,000 high school students in 2014 in the US, found that more than 90% of American adolescents were sleep deprived. This damning finding is symptomatic of a social welfare epidemic not just in the United States, but in all of the developed world: sleep is regularly undervalued when it comes to healthcare and lifestyle, despite the fact that “routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer” (Walker, 2017)​.

There are both social and biological reasons for the adolescent population being disproportionately affected: increased exposure to technology and social media that demands constant updates and attention drives teens towards later bedtimes, even during the school week: more than 25% of teenagers in the US stay up past 11:30 on school nights​ (Galvian, 2017)​. In addition to that, school activities and responsibilities are also a prime cause for sleeplessness. Despite these social causes, biology plays a vital, and yet mostly ignored, role: Galvian details a “sleep-wake phase delay”, a phenomenon in adolescent neurology that causes, on average, a two hour shift upwards in bed times for adolescents.

These factors catalyse quite severe consequences at the other end of the scale. School life is affected through the suffering of academic performance, higher rates of absenteeism as well as an increased rate of tardiness to class. Perhaps more importantly, though, is a decreased rate of learning; if the whole point of school is being undermined by the lack of sleep in its students, it truly reveals how severe the problem currently is in adolescents. The more clandestine effect of this social healthcare crisis is how lack of sleep affects the body. Some of the most direct consequences of insufficient sleep, surprisingly, include high-risk behaviour such as automobile accidents or even substance abuse. Bodily disorders such as anxiety and depression are amplified by a lack of sleep; poor sleep habits even have implications for potential cardiovascular diseases, metabolic dysfunction and type 2 diabetes. Studies revealing the chronic nature of sleep deprivation (Roberts, 2009) stress the urgency with which we need to fix this problem.

[read our next post for the findings and recommendations]

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