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for educators & parents

Sleep Matters

Statistics published by NHS Digital show that the number of young people being admitted to hospital for sleep disorders has grown exponentially from 6,549 in 2012-13 to 11,313 in the year ending December 2019.  This is serious on many levels but not least because sleep deprivation has known links to anxiety and depression and we simply cannot afford to allow the number of young people with mental health conditions to keep on growing.

Poor sleep is also linked to another current crisis, obesity.  A lack of sleep upsets the balance of the hormones associated with hunger, food choice and satiation leading us to eat more often, to reach for the fatty, sugary foods and to be less able to stop ourselves overeating.  

Poor sleep leads to higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol which in turn leads to compromised immune systems and cardiovascular problems.  In short, a lack of sleep over a sustained period of time becomes a physical and emotional ticking time bomb and we need to start prioritising sleep for ourselves and our children if we are to remain healthy.

Adults generally have a biological sleep pattern that means we are awake for 16 hours and then sleepy/asleep for eight in any twenty four hour cycle.   During adolescence the biological sleep pattern shifts and the pineal gland which produces melatonin, our sleepy hormone, doesn’t start producing it until about 2 hours later than it did.  Their natural pattern is to go to sleep later and wake later.

This means that during term time most teenagers are sleep deprived by about 10 hours per week which is not only serious for all the reasons I have already mentioned, but also because the teenage brain is doing much of its adult re-wiring whilst they are asleep.   When sleep is disrupted they miss out on REM sleep which is the really deep sleep we need to aid learning and memory.  Lack of REM sleep leads to impaired judgement and makes them less able to control their behaviour; their emotions and their attention.

Dr. Allison Baker, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute says:  “Teens who don’t get the kind of sleep they need in order to be able to self-regulate can actually exhibit many of the same symptoms as kids with ADHD. Signs of sleepiness can include an inability to sit still, to stay on task and to focus. It’s an easy misdiagnosis to make.”

Sleep matters and it matters deeply so what can you do to encourage your child to take it seriously and get the 8-10 hours they need per night?  Here are my top tips.

  1. Encourage them to come off all screens an hour before bedtime – the blue light slows the production of Melatonin.
  2. Get those screens out of their rooms overnight – two thirds of teens who sleep with their screens admit to waking up to check social media feeds.
  3. 20 minutes of morning light aids nighttime sleep – could they walk to school?
  4. Create a calming routine around bedtime – warm baths, milky drinks, lavender drops all help – your granny was right on this one!
  5. If they are struggling to get to sleep 30mls of sour cherry juice morning and evening will boost melatonin levels.

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