A program led by The University of Queensland aims to deliver culturally responsive sleep health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents in an effort to help them improve their sleep. 

The 10-week Sleep for Strong Souls program will connect with over 100 12- to 18-year-olds through workshops in north and western Queensland communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents experience disproportionately high rates of poor sleep, up to twice as high as other young people, according to project lead Yaqoot Fatima, PhD, associate professor at the University of Queensland’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, in a press release. 

“Improving sleep among young people means they can become more engaged in school, sport, cultural, and community activities. Poor sleep can be caused by medical conditions like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, home environments, or behavioral issues such as an irregular bedtime,” says Fatima in a press release. “Our previous studies have shown that young Indigenous people sleep better when they feel connected to their culture, which is why this program is important.”

In partnership with mental health organization Beyond Blue, the program promotes and reinforces healthy sleep behaviors by integrating traditional and western knowledge. It was successfully piloted in Mt Isa last year.

Jason Lee, Beyond Blue board director and psychiatrist, who has worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the gulf region, says a better understanding of the cultural influences that impact social and emotional well-being, drawing on communities’ knowledge, is needed to help create stronger support services. 

“It’s also important to look at the links between poor sleep and wellbeing in children, given many mental health issues originate in childhood,” says Lee in a press release. 

Karen Chong, a Waanyi Garawa Gangalida woman, grew up with a daily routine that meant sleep was not an issue until cable TV and the internet came to her remote community. Chong completed her training as an Indigenous sleep coach under the pilot program and is working toward becoming a sleep technician to help her people train a new generation of sleep coaches.

“We are not sleeping like we used to, and I knew that something needed to be done that would be helpful to my family and community because sleep is important to our culture,” says Chong in a press release.

The Sleep for Strong Souls project received $783,000 from National Health and Medical Research Council, $185,000 from Beyond Blue, and is supported by Queensland Children’s Hospital and Health Service, Ngak Min Health, Mithangkaya Nguli – Young People Ahead Youth and Community Services Indigenous Corp, and the Sleep Health Foundation.

Photo caption: The Sleep for Strong Souls project team

Photo credit: The University of Queensland