Lack of sleep a daily problem for children

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MOST people will have had that annoying experience of fighting the overwhelming urge to sleep at the most inopportune moments.

This could be at work after a sleepless night or at a concert or the cinema if it has been a busy day.

But what kind of impact does lack of sleep have on a child at school?

According to a recent survey by The Sleep Council, a lack of sleep among primary school children is having a “devastating” effect in schools, with nine out of 10 teachers complaining that pupils are so tired they are unable to pay attention in class.

More than a third said lack of sleep among youngsters is a daily problem for them.

But what is to blame?

According to the report, nine out of 10 teachers also felt there were too many distractions in children’s bedrooms . . . such as games machines and TVs. Another popular belief was that parents are not strict enough about enforcing bedtimes.

The poll of 250 primary school teachers was conducted for The Sleep Council which is launching its first ever sleep awareness project in schools, entitled Better Brains with More Sleep, as part of National Bed Month (March).

It aims to teach primary school children the importance of a good night’s sleep and the factors that can affect it.

“As part of our project we wanted to establish just how much of an issue lack of sleep has become among young school children,” said Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council. “Even we have been taken aback by the sheer scale of the problem.”

In Northamptonshire, the problem highlighted in this report has also been seen in primary school classrooms.

Bob Buntine, headteacher at Delapre Primary School, said he has a good working relationship with parents of pupils at his school but added: “I do see one or two children who are sleep deprived. The cause is that the computer or games console is in the bedroom and the children will try to use that after they go to bed.

“If that happens I talk to the parents, the parents might not even know.

“But children should never be alone in a bedroom anyway with a computer. Internet safety is a big concern. Children should never be left alone with their computers as they will believe what they see and hear. It can be dangerous.”

He continued: “It is a very difficult one because the fact often heard is that children need a minimum of eight hours sleep a day, some need more and some need less. There is no one answer. Children can go to bed and read for three hours and be fresh the next morning. I was brought up thinking I needed eight hours sleep or I would be ill.”

He added: “It has been more of a problem in the last 10 years but we are now more aware of internet safety so it is becoming less.”

Commenting on the survey results, Siôn Humphreys, Policy Advisor for the National Association of Headteachers said: “Schools cannot succeed without effective partnerships with the home. A tired and irritable child will not thrive, particularly in the active and pacey modern classroom. NAHT is particularly concerned about the still small but rising number of pupils who stay up late engaged in online gaming.”

But Dr Catti Moss, GP at Guilsborough Surgery, said that anxiety can be more of a threat to children’s sleep than electronic gadgets.

She said: “There is a great variation in sleep needs. Some need an enormous amount of sleep and some need very little. In general a child can’t keep themselves awake if they need to go to sleep and in general parents want children to sleep more than they need . . . although that is not true in every case.

“We are more likely to be dealing with parents who are worried that their children are not getting enough sleep.”

She added: “The biggest thing preventing sleep is anxiety and children do get anxious. I think young people do have a very tough time, there are a lot of expectations from their peers and they have a lot of things bombarding them from all sides.”