Is your child getting enough sleep?

12th October 2012

Growing evidence suggests our children are losing out on sleep – with significant side-effects.

There is growing evidence that today’s children — particularly pre-teens and teenagers — are sleeping less than previous generations. A recent survey of 4,000 parents revealed that the average bedtime for a 10-year-old was 10.30pm, rising to midnight for a 15-year-old; 74 per cent of their parents thought that seven hours a night was enough.  However, a quick search on the internet reveals most sleep experts recommend primary children should be sleeping 10-11 hours each night.

Even a modest lack of sleep among children has been shown to have startling effects: in a study of children aged 10 and 12, those told to sleep on average 41 minutes less than usual for several nights were then tested for memory, reaction times and attention. They were found to be the equivalent of two years behind their classmates, who got 35 minutes more sleep a night than usual. A study of 3,000 US teenagers showed that those getting school marks between C and F were going to bed 40 minutes later than the students with As and Bs, and were also reporting more depressive moods.

Research shows that the number one culprit for this is technology before sleep. Televisions, games consoles, mobiles etc are too much of a temptation for many. This has the twin effects of pushing bedtime later and stimulating the brain at a time when it should be winding down. The bright light from the screen can also stop the body producing the hormone melatonin, which prepares us for sleep.

Below, sleep experts at Millpond Sleep Clinic set out some useful tips…

Bedtime: the six golden rules

1 Observe the one hour wind-down period, just as we did when they were toddlers. No homework within an hour of sleep; the best time is either after school or straight after dinner.

2 Limit screens: all screens off 30-60 minutes before sleep, and ideally devices should be on the landing a minimum of 30 minutes before sleep. Don’t be deceived if teenagers say their brains have evolved to ignore the phone in their room. “Anything in the bedroom will disturb you — people sleeping together always have poorer quality sleep than if they had slept alone and if we haven’t evolved to get used to that then it’s unlikely that we would have evolved to sleep with our smartphones,” Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, says.

3 Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a full meal within an hour of bed, either, as the digestive process delays sleep. Foods containing the amino acid tryptophan (bananas, chicken/turkey, wholegrain cereals and milk) are often cited as a sleep aid although many scientists say there is little evidence for their efficacy. “Whether tryptophan works or not, a glass of milk and toast or an oat biscuit with a banana an hour before bed is a healthy snack, so you won’t lose anything,” Mandy Gurney says. Avoid foods with refined sugar and caffeine.

4 Don’t begin in-depth conversations about life, exams and the universe in the last hour before bed, as social interaction is the most potent brain stimulation that exists.

5 Stop exercising three hours before sleep. Body temperature begins falling around the onset of sleep, but exercise keeps it high and delays sleep. “Exercise keeps your body temperature high and it’s also a stressor for the body, which keeps you awake,” Idzikowski says.

6 Keep the same bedtime rituals; the body knows what to expect and relaxes. A hot bath followed by quiet reading is the best way to ready the body. Rooms should be cool, quiet and dark. “A regularity of routine is amazingly useful,” Idzikowski says.