New Study Finds 1 In 4 Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep

One in four children in the UK don’t get enough sleep, according to a recent report. The statistic comes from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2020 report, which is conducted every four years to find out about the lives of young people.

To compile the report, the WHO sent a questionnaire to 3,398 children in the UK who were between the ages of 11 and 15 in 2018. The children completed the survey at school, answering questions about their lives, including categories like health, diet, and mental health, among others. The results have just been revealed and it it’s not good news for their sleep health.

In this blog post, we’ll be looking at the findings of the report, what this means for young people, and what you, as a parent, can do to help.

What did the study find?

Sleep problems seemed to be one of the biggest health complaints across the board, with 44% of all young people surveyed reporting difficulty sleeping. The survey also found that:

  • Girls were more likely to report a lack of sleep (32%) compared to boys (23%).
  • Older children were more likely to report sleeping difficulties, with 42% of 15-year-olds admitting to not having enough sleep. This is compared to 28% of 13-year-olds and just 17% of 11-year-olds.
  • 27% of young people admitted that a lack of sleep affects their education, and that they don’t get enough sleep to be able to concentrate on schoolwork. Older girls were most at risk of this, with almost half (49%) of 15-year-old girls reporting not having enough sleep to concentrate at school.
  • The number of young people reporting not getting enough sleep has increased from 22% in 2014 (when the last survey was taken) to 27% in 2018.

What does this mean?

A lack of sleep isn’t great for any of us, but it can be especially worrying for young people. Sleep is important for brain reorganisation, which helps us process and manage our thoughts and experiences during the day. And, as young people’s brains are still developing and experiencing lots of new situations, a good night’s rest is important. But what can a lack of sleep do to our brains?

A recent study published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal discovered a correlation between a lack of sleep and mental health. They found that psychiatric problems, such as depression, were associated with a short sleep duration. The WHO’s report also showed an increase in mental health issues among young people, with 22% of respondents saying they had experienced a high level of emotional problems. Again, older children were more at risk, with around 50% of 15-year-olds reporting feeling low once a week. So, it’s likely that there’s a link between the lack of sleep reported by the young people in the study and their mental health.

What can you do to help?

Although your child’s hormones will fluctuate as they get older, which can affect how much sleep they need, it’s recommended that children between 6–13-years-old get at least 7–12 hours of sleep per night, and 14–17-year-olds get between 8 and 11 hours of sleep each night.

If you’re worried that your child isn’t getting enough sleep, what can you do to help?

Promote a relaxing routine

A routine can be great for children, and it’s an ideal way to promote healthy sleep. Try to encourage your child to do something relaxing each night, like taking a warm bath, reading, or listening to soothing music. Calming activities like these will help your child relax and unwind before bedtime, and they’ll be more likely to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep during the night. Why not develop a routine that you can do together? It can help you and your child bond, and you might just find it easier to sleep, too!

Encourage children to avoid screens

Technology is an important part of young people’s lives, but it’s not helping them sleep any better. In fact, if your child sits up on their phone, tablet, watching TV, or playing video games, it’s going to make it harder for them to fall asleep.

Our bodies rely on something called our circadian rhythm to know when to fall asleep and when to stay awake, and this is regulated by factors such as sunlight. When your children stay up on their phones, the blue light from their screens can trick their brain into thinking it’s daytime. So, they’re less likely to feel sleepy when they get into bed, and when they do finally drift off, they’ll have trouble staying asleep. This in turn can lead to sleep debt — you can read more about this in our blog post on how to avoid building up a sleep deficit.

To help them sleep better, encourage them to keep away from their devices at least an hour before bed. It might help to keep their phone in another room, so they’re not tempted by it during the night.

Set up a sleepy environment in their bedroom

The conditions of your child’s room can also affect how well they sleep. If it’s too hot or too cold, too bright or loud, or their mattress isn’t supportive, they could be kept awake.

Their room should be a cool 15–19°C. It should also be kept free of any light, so installing blackout curtains or blinds could be a good idea. If you have little ones that need some light to help them sleep, consider using a small night light that’ll be bright enough to help them see in the dark, but dim enough that it won’t disrupt their sleep.

If your child or teenager is finding their mattress uncomfortable, it might be time to invest in a new one that’ll be more supportive. The perfect mattress depends entirely on your child’s sleeping position and preference. If you’re not sure what mattress would be right for them, our mattress buying guide can help. Alternatively, if you don’t want to buy a whole new mattress, a mattress topper can do the same job. To find out more about mattress toppers, as well as which one would be right for your child, take a look at our mattress topper guide.

Discourage lie-ins

The key to good sleep health is going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. It’s normal for teenagers to want to lie-in over the weekend, but this can throw their sleep-wake cycle out of sync, meaning they can end up finding it harder to sleep during the week, and they won’t be able to get up for school.

An extra one or two hours in bed won’t make too much of a difference to your teenager’s sleep cycle, but any longer and it can alter their schedule. So, try to encourage them to wake up at their normal time, even on a weekend. Although this might be difficult to do, try planning fun activities to entice them to get out of bed early.

Children are finding it harder to sleep compared to just four years ago, and this can have a negative impact on their mental health. But, by following these tips, you can help your child get a better night’s rest. If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still worried about your kid’s sleep health, consult a doctor or GP to rule out any underlying causes. For more expert sleep tips like these, make sure you check out the rest of our blog, as well as our advice centre.

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