“We are the people of the Dreamtime with the oldest surviving culture shaped by dreams, which is why I became a sleep coach and want to train others,” she said.
Any parent of teens will tell you that the notoriously tricky adolescent brain can be even harder if they haven’t had a good night’s sleep.
Mother of seven and grandmother of ten Mrs. Chong, a Waanyi Garawa Gangalida woman, knows all too well how much more difficult parenting can be if your children are not sleeping well.
“If they didn’t get a good night’s sleep, they woke up grumpy and grouchy, and that affects their eating, too,” she said.
“The biggest problem I’ve had with my two girls is they want to stay up all night on their phones — if you’re a parent, you know what kids are like.”
The University of Queensland and Beyond Blue have teamed up to deliver culturally responsive sleep health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents in Queensland.
Project leader Associate Professor Yaqoot Fatima of UQ’s Poche Center for Indigenous Health said Indigenous teens are up to twice as likely to have poor sleep as other adolescents.
“Bad sleep can be caused by medical conditions such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, or behavioral issues such as irregular bedtimes, late nights and not getting enough sleep,” she said.
“Indigenous adolescents sleep better when they feel connected to their culture, which is why this program is important.”
The 10-week Sleep for Strong Souls program holds workshops with over 100 12-18 year olds in communities across North and West Queensland.
The program promotes and reinforces healthy sleep behaviors by integrating traditional and Western knowledge and was successfully tested last year at Mt Isa.
Ms. Chong completed her training as an Indigenous sleep coach under the pilot program and is working towards becoming a sleep technician.
She said there are things people can do to improve their sleep.
And number one is disconnecting from screens and devices well before bed.
“A good night’s sleep can help prevent you from getting all these life-threatening illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and mental illness,” Ms Chong said.
“It can affect you in so many different ways.”
Melatonin is produced by the brain in the dark.
“It’s released in your brain to help you relax and fall asleep, but light coming from phones tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime and then disrupts your circadian rhythms,” Ms Chong said.
“A clean environment, a comfortable bed and the room should have a pleasant temperature.
All appliances should be put away, don’t drink too much caffeine at night and lights are important.
“I put my phone on silent and it goes under the bed.”
Ms. Chong looks forward to working with Indigenous teens, including two of her grandchildren, in the Sleep for Strong Souls program.
“I can’t wait to get out into the communities to talk to the kids and really educate them about the science behind sleep, and of course it’s done with cultural lessons as well,” she said.
“I’m proud to do this, it gives back to my community.”