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How much sleep do schoolchildren have? CensusAtSchool asks them

Almost four in ten high-school students have reported sleeping for fewer than eight hours at night – less than the nine to 10 hours generally recommended for 13 to 18-year-olds.

The snapshot comes from the first 6000 respondents to the online educational project CensusAtSchool, which aims to bring statistics to life in Year 5 to Year 13 classrooms. This year, more than 1200 teachers from 559 schools all over New Zealand are administering CAS, with students answering 32 questions about their lives and opinions. The results are then released to schools so students can become ‘data detectives’ in class.

This year’s questionnaire asked students what time they had fallen asleep the night before they took part in CensusAtSchool (rather than what time they got into bed) and what time they woke on the day.

Among high-school students (Year 9 to 13), the majority (56%) said they slept for eight to 10 hours. However, 37% of the group, or almost four in ten students, reported sleeping for eight hours or fewer. The most common time high-school students reported going to sleep was 10.30pm.

Peter Holmstead, a teacher at Wellington’s Houghton Valley School who ran CensusAtSchool in his Year 6 classroom, says the snapshot is interesting “because we all have an opinion on how much sleep children need to be able to learn effectively. The high-school students were asleep earlier than I had imagined. As the father of a 15-year-old boy who is never in bed before 11, it was useful to be able to tell him this!”

He adds, “But seriously, in my observation, students who haven’t had enough sleep can find it difficult to focus on their learning.”

At intermediate level (Year 7 and 8), just over half (54%) of intermediate pupils reported that they slept for between eight and 12 hours. A total of 32% said they slept for eight to 10 hours. The most common time intermediate students reported going to sleep was 9.30pm.

At primary level (Year 5 and 6) just over half (54%) of primary school pupils said they slept for between 10 and 12 hours. A total of 33% reported eight to 10 hours of sleep. The most common time this age-group reported going to sleep was 8.30pm.

CensusAtSchool, now in its sixth edition, is a collaborative project involving teachers, the University of Auckland’s Department of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education. It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people, and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, Japan and South Africa. The countries share some questions so comparisons can be made, but the majority reflect New Zealand students’ interests.