Mrs L Lockyer, School Nurse
Brisbane Girls Grammar School has a long tradition of outstanding scholarship and innovation in education of young women. Extensive preparation, discipline and perseverance by dedicated educators enable our girls to access wide-ranging experience and resources. It is expected that all students, regardless of abilities or individual interest, are successful in reaching their ultimate potential. For our girls to perform at their best and take steps to achieve exceptional scholarship, it is important to equip them with the tools to maintain good health and wellbeing.
It is not uncommon for girls to present to the Health Centre feeling ‘unwell’. This, on deeper inspection, can mean:
‘I haven’t had any breakfast.’
‘I haven’t had any water.’
‘I didn’t get much sleep last night.’
‘I have just done (some type of) sports training.’
Opportunities to educate and learn arise through all aspects of school life. Further discussion and thinking will lead girls to the realisation that sub-optimal preparation and care can result in detrimental changes to health and wellbeing; their surprise in realising the reasons they feel ‘unwell’ is quite remarkable.
Adequate nutrition is required to support strong bones and muscles, to stabilise fluctuating hormones, and to provide fuel for busy and demanding schedules. Because growth and change is very rapid in the adolescent stage of development, additional calories, protein, calcium and iron are required for adequate nutrition.
Calories – an increase is required to provide fuel for rapid growth and development.
Protein – important for growth and muscle maintenance, as well as satiety.
Calcium – responsible for the strength of bones. Insufficient calcium can lead to weak bones and osteoporosis later in life.
Iron – insufficiency can lead to anaemia, fatigue and weakness.
It is important that diets include a wide variety of unprocessed foods as well as minimal sugar and salt intake. Good diets include adequate fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. By far the most important step to start the day with is a substantial breakfast. This will set the body up for a steady energy supply for the day, which can be followed by nutritious snacks to maintain energy levels. Regular fluid intake, predominately of water, to maintain hydration and cellular function is also essential. Without proper nutrition and hydration, young girls are susceptible to poor physical performance, emotional variations, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and an inability to focus on their studies and cope with the rigors of daily school life.
Achieving adequate rest is essential in supporting our cardiovascular system, immune system, hormone fluctuations, emotions, and our ability to concentrate and think clearly. When school schedules are demanding, the temptation to cut back on sleep can be high. But even minimal sleep loss can directly affect our mood, energy and ability to handle stress. Duration and quality of sleep directly affect the quality of our life, mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, endurance, and even our weight.
Although our body and brain do not shut off during sleep, they require this rest time to restore and provide biological maintenance to enable our bodies and minds to run in optimal condition for the day ahead. If not enough restorative hours of sleep are gained, we are not able to work, learn, create and achieve at a level close to our potential. Regular deprivation of this rest and restore time can potentially lead to mental and physical breakdown.
How much sleep do we need? Most healthy adults require on average between seven and a half to nine hours per night. Adolescents have an increased average requirement of eight and a half to ten hours per night, largely due to rapid growth and development during this life stage. But it is important to consider the difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function at your best. If you are gaining enough rest, you should be energetic and alert all day from rising in the morning to your regular bed time at night. By making sleep a priority and scheduling carefully to fit in adequate rest, we are better prepared to perform and achieve success.
Sleep deprivation and poor nutrition can amount to a wide range of negative effects including:
- energy imbalance resulting in fatigue and lethargy
- inability to motivate and unwillingness to have a go
- moodiness and irritability
- inability to cope with stress and change
- issues with concentration, focus and memory
- impaired motor skills and increased likelihood of accident or injury
- difficulty with decision making, critical thinking and problem solving
- reduced creativity
- immune deficiency leading to a decreased ability to fight off illness and infection
- compromised cardiovascular health
- increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.
Other factors that impact on attaining success:
Participating in recreational or structured exercise is beneficial to physical health, sleep quality and stress release.
Establishing good hygiene practices to prevent illness or infection as well as maintain personal image standards are especially important for adolescent girls. Routine, regular hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent transmission of bacteria and viruses.
Being immersed in a very busy school life can lead to being disorganised and lack of preparation can lead to missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, as well unnecessary stress.
Establishment of a clear routine suited to individual goals, commitments and needs is imperative. Importantly, scheduling ‘must do’ items first allows time for fulfilling pursuits, as well as rest and reflection time.
The connections adolescents have with their peers, family and friendship group play a vital role in their social development and can easily influence their direction and success.
As teachers and parents, we can guide and support our girls in the following ways:
- by encouraging them to make well-considered choices in daily life
- by role-modelling appropriate behaviours
- by providing support with time, resources and emotions
- by encouraging them to recognise their own progress and achievements
- by assisting them to plan for their future hopes and goals.
Preparation and dedication to good habits and maintaining health and wellbeing will ensure our girls are best able to achieve their potential.