UK schoolchildren to be offered sleep lessons after rise in disorders

  • Experts call lack of sleep ‘a hidden public health crisis’, with growing obesity, excessive use of social media and mental health problems being blamed
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 12:46am

Schoolchildren across Britain may be offered sleep lessons to help tackle the problem of insomnia among young people.

The lessons became available to teachers at the end of last year and was devised by the PSHE Association and the department for sleep medicine at Evelina London children’s hospital.

The lessons focus on giving children strategies for getting to sleep and raising awareness about how sleep needs change in adolescence.

A recent paper in the British Medical Journal suggested sleep has a greater impact on an adolescent’s mental well-being than bullying, physical activity and so-called screen time.

Concern has also been raised about what has been described as the “hidden public health disaster” of sleeplessness among young people.

Analysis of data from NHS Digital shows admissions with a primary diagnosis of sleep disorder among the under-17s has risen from 6,520 in 2012-13 to 9,429 last year despite falling overall for all ages from 29,511 to 29,184 in the same period.

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“Sleep issues are a huge problem … it’s a hidden public health crisis,” said Rachael Taylor, founder of the Sleep Sanctuary. “There is a lot of sleep anxiety being diagnosed at the moment. It’s a new area that we are looking at, dealing with more children who have anxiety and it is coming out in sleep issues.”

Experts say the increase in sleep problems comes from a combination of higher obesity levels, excessive use of social media before bedtime and a mental health crisis among young people.

The sleep lessons are aimed at seven- to 16-year-olds and are available as part of the PSHE curriculum.

Charlie Tyack, a clinical psychologist from the department of sleep medicine at Evelina London, said: “Good quality sleep is a key foundation for emotional and physical well-being, as well as educational performance … These PSHE lessons reinforce the importance of sleep and help young people to think realistically about how to give themselves the best chances of getting the sleep they need to reach their full potential.”

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Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a co-author of the BMJ paper, said: “There is more and more evidence emerging that lack of sleep has a major impact on children’s mental and physical health, as well as learning. And at a time where there is so much competition with sleep thanks to technology and lifestyles, any education on the importance of sleep will be beneficial for today’s modern children and young people. I hope they take note of the advice being taught and they quickly reap the benefits.”