This is how your child’s learning is affected by lack of sleep

Sleep deprivation in children is on the rise worldwide but a good night’s rest is crucial for your child’s physical and mental development.

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For many of us when we were kids, the bedtime story was that comforting ritual at the end of the day that sent us all swiftly into the land of nod.

Nowadays, with our increasing reliance on technology, that job all too often falls to an app or device to bribe kids into bed when it’s time to sleep.

But as cases of child sleep deprivation are on the rise globally, little ones might not be drifting off into dreamland as sweetly as you think – and that can spell big problems when it comes to physical and academic development.

Sleepless nights

“Insomnia in children has been rising in the past 15 years because of the internet and smart devices that are being given more and more to young kids,” explains Dr Hady Jerdak, general manager of Harley Sleep Clinic at Harley Street Medical Centre.

“Now, they’re going to bed with a smart phone or device,” he adds. “These have two effects on the brain: First, the blue light emitted stops secretion of melatonin, a molecule in the brain that induces sleep.

“In addition, the influx of information such as social media and games makes the brain work more. This combination leads to children having one or two hours less sleep than they need.”

It might not sound like much, but those one or two hours add up, creating what is known as a sleep debt.

“As this sleep deprivation increases throughout the week, this leads to symptoms such as lack of focus and concentration in school, tiredness and headaches, and crashes at the weekend as they sleep more to get the hours back,” Dr Hady notes.

A developing problem

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Tiredness at school can have a huge impact on academic performance, affecting your child’s ability to retain and apply information. But it’s not just about the grades; sleeping less can have a detrimental effect on your child’s physical and mental development, too.

“All hormones in the body are secreted at night, and not sleeping well will lead to imbalance,” warns Dr Hady. “Decreased secretion of all the hormones that are necessary for growth and development leads to developmental delays, as well as mental developmental delays. It affects the body, the mind – everything.

“What we’re seeing is that teens are sleeping much less than needed; they need about eight to ten hours of sleep, which is more than adults, because their body is developing.”

Signs of sleep deprivation will vary, but Dr Hady suggests watching for falling grades, weight changes, decreased focus and increased napping.

In addition to staying vigilant, parents should establish good routines and use a firm hand
when needed.

“We need to educate parents on how to stop their children from staying awake,” Dr Hady recommends. “We need to remove devices from kids before they go to bed and have good sleep hygiene. Kids need enforcement from their parents to have good sleep habits.

“Children below eight should not be spending more than one hour per day on a computer, and certainly not before bedtime. Above all, we need to go back to [telling a] bedtime story – it has a hypnotising effect. One story and they’re out.”

Don’t let the bedbugs bite

Try these tips to help the kids drift off to sleep

  • Set a routine: Make sure children go to sleep and wake at the same time each day, and that whether it’s a bath, a bedtime story or a warm glass of milk, the routine stays as consistent as possible.
  • Limit screen time: Two hours before bedtime, make sure that children and teens are away from screens of all kinds and that they don’t end up in the bedroom – this includes phones, televisions and laptops.
  • Bring back books: In addition to boosting parent-child bonding and brain power, research shows that a story before bedtime paves the way for a relaxing sleep. For older children, books or e-readers that don’t emit blue light are a great option.
  • Set the scene: Creating a good sleep environment is crucial – the room should be dark, cool, quiet and free from distractions.
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