How many hours of sleep does a five-year-old need? Does the time at which a child sleeps matter? What hormones are produced only during sleep? If, as a parent, you don’t know the answers, you are not alone. According to a new survey by the Sleep Council, most parents cannot answer these or even more basic questions about children’s sleep. Neither can most GPs, health visitors or teachers — and children are paying the price in health problems.
Mandy Gurney, an expert on children’s sleep, says that an increasing number of children spend their formative years “chronically sleep-deprived”. As a result they are not only tired, ratty and inattentive but are more prone to a spectrum of health problems including obesity, hypertension and clinical depression.
Gurney has been asked to set up a sleep clinic by a North London health authority because it recognises that simply getting children to sleep better will produce huge cost savings in health treatments over their lifetimes.
Why is the problem not more widely recognised? Because sleep is seen as something that we “just do”, says Gurney. “It is seen as organic rather than a medical issue, and people looking after children don’t connect the chronic and often serious symptoms with simple lack of sleep. Children are even less likely to see the connection.”
Which is why the Sleep Council is calling for sleep to be taught in schools.