Dreamtime: Australia’s first Indigenous youth sleep program moves forward – UQ News

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Indigenous youth from Mt Isa will learn the mental health benefits of a good night’s sleep in a cutting-edge program developed by the University of Queensland.

Karen Chong and Jamie Dunne of Mt Isa, Australia’s first-ever Indigenous sleep coaches, will work with 120 young people on sleep education, sleep health coaching and narrative therapy as part of UQ Let’s Yarn About Sleep (LYAS) Program.

Launched last year by Social Science Research Institute, Principal Investigator Dr Yaqoot Fatima said the program was an Australian first that promotes sleep health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by integrating traditional knowledge with Western science of sleep.

“The LYAS program provides holistic, inclusive and responsive solutions to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent sleep understanding and empower them to embrace sleep health,” said Dr. Fatima.

Evidence shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety at much higher levels than non-Aboriginal Australians, and the benefits of sleep for improving adolescent health and well-being remain untapped.

“This could be attributed to the lack of sleep health programs aligned with Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of health and wellness, as well as the lack of qualified coaches to provide culturally appropriate care.

“That’s what our program is about – to help close the gap and achieve equity in sleep health by training young Indigenous workers to become sleep coaches who can then provide specialized services in remote communities, she said.

The training program integrates Indigenous knowledge and understanding of sleep health with Western knowledge of sleep science, and was developed in consultation with service providers and the local community.

In his previous role as a youth worker, Mr. Dunne worked with vulnerable youth in the community. Now as a sleep coach, Mr Dunne said the training he received was invaluable.

“Sleep is so important to our overall well-being, and I’m so happy to be part of something that will help our children have the best possible future,” he said.

Part of the training involved collecting objective sleep data, using actigraphy watches, which will help sleep coaches record sleep health and young people in Mount Isa better understand common sleep problems experienced by young people in the community.

“It was eye-opening and shows that some young people are not getting the recommended amount of sleep each night and that is why an educational program like this is vital for communities.”

Ms Chong, a sleep coach, said she would educate the young people of Mt Isa on the science of sleep while incorporating traditional knowledge.

Integrating two worldviews will ensure that the sleep health promotion program is evidence-based and responsive to the cultural and contextual needs of Mount Isa youth.

“Most people know that sleep is good for you, but they don’t understand how important it is and the health benefits it has,” Ms Chong said.

“To help educate young people, we will travel with them into the bush, or other places they suggest, and use traditional activities like weaving and painting to reinforce sleep education.”

LYAS cultural mentor Roslyn Von Senden said sleep plays a big role in Indigenous culture because of Dreamtime.

“This program brings together the vital elements – the creativity of Aboriginal culture and how art, song and dance are used to express knowledge, with the science of sleep,” said Ms. Von Senden.

Given the success of the project at Mt Isa, the team hopes to expand to six other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote Queensland, and possibly interstate.

The program is funded by a Medical Research Future Fund Indigenous Health Grant and involves collaborators from La Trobe University, University of Western Australia, Flinders University, Central Queensland University, from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, James Cook University and Young People Ahead Mount Isa.

Media: Dr Yaqoot Fatima, [email protected]+61 (0)457 024 222, Jamie Dunne (sleep coach) +61 (0)473 961 347, Karen Chong (sleep coach) +61 (0)467 667 493, Roslyn Von Senden (cultural mentor) +61 (0)497 228 267, UQ Communications Kristen Johnston, [email protected]+61 7 3346 1633, +61 (0)407 656 518.

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