The Motivation Behind 'NFS'
It is indisputable that teens in Singapore are not sleeping enough. This is true for adolescents all around the world, but the problem in Singapore is compounded by early school start times, a packed timetable of activities, and the belief that sleep should be sacrificed for academic success. In fact, sleep deprivation is often worn as a badge of honour – “sleep is for the weak” (sound familiar?) is a mindset that we hope to change.
The negative impact of sleep curtailment cannot be overstated. Research has shown that sleep deprivation results in diminished ability to sustain attention and process information, hindering one’s capacity to learn and retain learned material. Poor sleep negatively affects one’s mood and the ability to make decisions; it also increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cognitive decline, affecting quality of life and ‘healthspan’.
Adolescence is a period of immense neurocognitive and emotional development – the push to excel academically and thrive socio-emotionally renders this age group in particular need of adequate sleep. However, our surveys find that Singaporean students are sleeping an average of 6.5 h a night, far below the recommended 8 – 10 h.
In 2014, we sought to shine a spotlight on this problem by experimentally characterizing the deleterious effects of short sleep in Singaporean adolescents. We conducted the first Need For Sleep study that year, housing 60 adolescents in a boarding school for 2-weeks to track cognitive and emotional outcomes as a result of sleep restriction. Our findings that even students from top schools are susceptible to neurobehavioral deficits firmly dispel the myth that ‘mind over matter’ can overcome negative effects of chronic sleep restriction.
Galvanised by our findings, we wanted to go beyond characterising deficits and explore solutions. Today, Need for Sleep has become an iconic series of sleep research studies to investigate the relationships between restricted sleep, health and cognitive outcomes in adolescents and to test possible solutions.