Help kids switch off
Technology is sapping children’s energy by keeping them up at night...
Computers, televisions and mobile phones are such a major part of life for modern children that, according to research, they are disrupting their sleep patterns.
In fact, a new survey has found that up to two-thirds of children aren’t getting enough sleep and part of the problem is that rather than enjoying a bedtime story, more than half of children aged over six years admit they stay up late playing computer games, browsing the
internet, texting their friends and watching television.
The survey, conducted in the UK by the Travelodge chain of hotels, found that 67 per cent of children miss out on a bedtime story and nearly half don’t follow a regular bedtime routine.
In fact, the average respondent in the study - of more than 2,000 children aged between six and 15 years - went to bed at 11.20pm.
As a result of sleep deprivation, 79 per cent of children said they find it difficult to concentrate at school, and eight out of 10 reported extreme daytime tiredness, to the extent that more than a quarter admitted to falling asleep in class at least once a week.
Children’s sleep specialist Andrea Grace says part of the problem may stem from kids having computers, TVs and electronic games in their bedrooms, making it hard for parents to police what’s going on.
“It’s very easy if they’re quiet in their bedrooms to think that they’re asleep, when actually they’re on the computer or watching TV,” she says.
“It’s so easy to stay up and do something on the internet or play a game - doing these things give children a false energy, making them feel energised and awake even when they’re tired.”
Grace adds that while going on the computer just before bed may or may not affect children’s sleep quality in itself, “it’s more that it postpones sleep and keeps children hooked in”.
She says sleep deprivation affects the immune system, making people more susceptible to illness and infections, and makes people more prone to accidents, depression and low mood.
The quality of people’s sleep is affected by the hormone melatonin, which is secreted during darkness, she says, so a good night’s sleep is easier in a dark room.
“If children fall asleep with a computer on in the background, or near light from some other technology, it will affect the quality of their sleep,” she advises. “Parents need to think about whether their children are sleep deprived.
“If the kids are, parents need to take steps to start a very simple bedtime routine.” She says night routines are relevant at any age, even for adults, as it’s the time when people should start to wind down. “Adults and children need to have a time when they just prepare themselves for bed and turn everything off.
“As well as helping people unwind, it helps you to feel better - knowing you’ll be able to cope with the next day.” Grace stresses that while it may not be easy getting a resistant child into a bedtime routine, it will pay off in the end.
“Sometimes it’s really worth the battle,” she says. “If you say everything off at 9pm, or whatever the appropriate time is for the age of your child, if you can weather the storm and give rewards and praise for doing it then they’ll feel better.
“Parents will feel better too, as they’re in control and helping to improve their children’s wellbeing.”
SLEEP IS NOT A LIFESTYLE CHOICE
Sleep specialist Andrea Grace says children normally need between 10 and 12 hours sleep a night, although that duration drops slightly in the teenage years.
The Travelodge report found that 74 per cent of parents think seven hours is a sufficient amount of sleep for their kids. Professor Colin Espie, director of the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre in the UK, insists that there’s “no one-size fits all” time period when it comes to a child’s sleep.
“Parents should know how much sleep their children need, just like they should know how much food they need,” he says. “There are individual differences. Most parents know that their own kids are different from each other at exactly the same age.
“As parents, we expect to figure most things out - and it does take time. Quoting norms at particular ages absolutely isn’t helpful.” Espie adds that children and their parents aren’t taking sleep seriously enough. “Sleep isn’t a lifestyle option but, like breathing, is absolutely essential,” he stresses.
“Adequate sleep is required for the brain to function at its best. Healthy living is not just about diet and exercise, it’s also about sleep. So far sleep has been neglected as a public-health issue.”