We have teamed up with the University of Leeds to look into the sleeping habits and patterns of primary school children aged 6-11 in the UK.
Our findings show that a lack of sleep is damaging the academic development of British children, with 51% getting less than eight hours of sleep per night. This is despite the NHS recommending ten hours for this age group.
Such low levels of sleep are likely to have a negative impact on a child’s ability to function in the classroom and reach key milestones in their education.
Dr Anna Weighall, a developmental cognitive psychologist at the university believes that poor routine could be to blame, with 83 per cent of children reporting being awake by 6:30am on a weekday. This is despite 5% still being awake at 10pm the night before and 16% still being awake at 9pm.
This is particularly concerning as the low levels of sleep reported are likely to impair long term cognitive and academic development in children.
How much sleep are Britain’s children getting?
This is the first major study to characterise children’s sleep habits in the UK and has been conducted after consultation from more than a thousand parents.
Dr Anna Weighall said: “Our results show that children who experience inadequate sleep are more likely to have problems paying attention in class, forgetting things and keeping up with school work, and may then end up missing school because they feel unwell.
“What’s clear from our data is that parents know how much sleep children should be getting but for whatever reason it’s not being made a priority and children just aren’t getting the necessary time in bed. From looking into bedtime and waking patterns we can see that families are consistently going to bed late during the week and on top of this children are regularly having later nights at weekends, disrupting their sleep patterns and contributing to problems during the school week.”
She continued: “We also looked into the amount of sleep parents are getting to get a clear picture of family life and routine and we found that many parents are also getting chronically low levels of sleep.
“Nearly 50 per cent report getting six hours or less a night and an even more concerning 24 per cent get five hours or less. As well as being associated with a whole host of health problems including cardiovascular disease and obesity, these levels amongst parents could be significantly impacting children’s sleep.
“There are clear indications from our research that suggest by addressing their own sleep patterns, parents could dramatically improve their children’s overall wellbeing and academic performance.”
The effect of technology on children’s sleep
As well as poor routine the research found technology to be a key contributing factor to lack of sleep amongst children, even from the age of six.
The findings show that children who have smartphones or tablets in the bedroom sleep less than those who leave their devices out of the bedroom – losing up to an hour of sleep a night compared to families that keep bedrooms a tech-free zone.
This sleep loss applied even to children who kept devices in their room but had them switched off and the trend increased as they got older, with 11-year-olds losing the most sleep because of tech.
The common worries that keep kids up at night
Other factors keeping children awake include worries about bullying and worries about homework. One in six parents said their children’s sleep has been affected by bullying, with parents most concerned about the problem saying their child got up to an hour less sleep than children whose parents did not see it as a concern.
Nearly a third of parents surveyed who said their child worried about homework and believed worries about homework have a negative effect on their child’s sleep, with children who worry about homework getting nearly an hour’s less sleep than their peers who do not.
Our expert’s view
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Silentnight’s sleep expert, comments: “Sadly I’m not surprised by the impact lack of sleep is having on the nation’s children. It is so important for parents to recognise how essential good quality restorative sleep is for children.
“Ten hours might seem a lot but children’s brains are constantly growing and developing, particularly at primary school age, and having time to rest and recover after a busy day at school is vital.
“It’s interesting to see how much parents’ sleep affects children’s and I think this boils down to establishing a good routine for everyone in the household. This means the whole family limiting technology around bedtime and allowing time to wind down before going to sleep.
“Concentration and the ability to learn can be severely affected by lack of sleep. By establishing a regular sleep routine like this the whole family will sleep better, perform better at school and work, and be happier and healthier as a result.”