It’s time for a new term at school – and that can lead to sleeping problems for children. In fact, it’s believed that around 30% of school-age children suffer from some sort of sleep disorder, and that can have a long-term impact on their health and behaviour both at home and at school.
Lack of sleep in children affect shool performance
We all need sleep to help us function properly and for children a good night’s sleep is even more important. Up till the age of twelve years old, children need between 10-12 hours of sleep every night, and even teenagers need a good 8-10 hours to keep them healthy.
The trouble is there are many things that can affect children’s sleep, from nightmares and bedwetting to sleepwalking and sleep apnoea, perhaps resulting from enlarged tonsils/adenoids or repeated sinus infections. Adults often have difficulty sleeping because they are worried about the bills and children can suffer from sleep-onset anxiety too. While they won’t be worrying about world problems or the mortgage, friendships, bullying and school can all prey on our children’s minds and affect their sleeping pattern.
Delayed sleep phase syndrome
Another common problem is delayed sleep phase syndrome. This is where the regular sleep pattern has been changed over a period of time, and it often affects children returning to school after the summer break. We tend to let our children stay up a little later during the holidays on the grounds that they can sleep in later in the mornings. The trouble is their body clock gets used to the new sleeping pattern and it can be very difficult for them to fall asleep at a sensible hour when the term starts.
Toddlers starting school or nursery for the first time can also be affected by sleep problems. New routines and activities can mean that by bedtime they’re over-tired and struggle to fall asleep. The less sleep they get, the more tired they become and it can be quite a challenge to break the cycle and get them back into a sensible sleeping pattern.
At the other end of the scale, teenagers can also suffer from a lack of sleep. Their reputation for staying up late and waking late actually has firm biological roots, but they still have to get up early for school, and that can result in sleep deprivation and all the problems it causes.
So what are the results of a lack of sleep in children?
A poor sleep pattern can very quickly affect a child’s emotional state and they can become tearful, irritable or angry, or perhaps drowsy in class. Lack of sleep also affects concentration and co-ordination so children might be forgetful or clumsy or make a lot of mistakes in their work. And if sleep deprivation becomes a serious problem it can result in behavioural or learning difficulties, health problems, lateness or even truancy.
It’s often difficult to know how best to help our children return to a more healthy sleep pattern but there are a few simple things we can do. Put in place a consistent bedtime routine and ensure the bedroom is uncluttered and well aired – it should not be too warm. Use curtains that block out the light and keep down the noise in the bedroom – no TV! Finally, a good diet and plenty of fresh air and exercise can help your child sleep better.