Children’s Sleep Patterns – Survey reveals lack of understanding of children’s sleep needs

The first-ever transatlantic survey into children’s sleep patterns has revealed that although children in the UK and the US might share similar habits, there is a big difference in their parents’ appreciation of the importance of a good night’s sleep.

The UK’s Sleep Council teamed up with the USA’s Better Sleep Council to conduct the research which polled the parents of 1,000 UK and 1,000 US children aged from 7 to 18 years old.

The survey found that in the US, almost half (45%) of parents believe their child gets better grades as a result of getting more sleep compared to less than a quarter (22%) of UK parents. 90% of US parents felt that their child’s mattress was an important factor for a good night’s sleep compared to 60% of UK parents.

Getting enough sleep allows children to react more quickly to situations, have a more developed memory, learn more effectively and solve problems, according to Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Jessica Alexander from the Sleep Council said: “In the USA there is much greater awareness of the adverse effects of poor sleep habits. In the UK, sleep has not yet been given equal status with diet and exercise as being fundamental to health and wellbeing. To coin a new phrase we need to ‘catch up on our sleepreciation!’”

The research also shows that almost a quarter (23%) of 7-18 year olds in the UK are losing sleep because of worry. Over half of 7-11 year olds (57%) worry about friendships and family issues while 29% worry about school (grades, homework and classes) compared to 56% of American children. Only a quarter of children, according to their parents, have no worries at all.

Children’s sleep expert Kathleen McGrath said: “Children are, perhaps surprisingly, natural worriers but it’s of concern if they regularly lose sleep through worry. If sleep during childhood is disturbed it can hinder growth and development and cause all kinds of problems for child and parent alike.”

The survey shows that with the new school year just days away, most children are likely to experience some disruption to their sleep pattern with one in three UK and US children expecting to get less sleep and four in ten (42%) getting more sleep when they go back to school.

Among those children in the UK who get less sleep when they go back to school, almost half (45%) are noticeably crabbier. Kathleen said: “All children are crabby when they are tired but to overcome this they need to learn to identify the symptoms of tiredness so they can deal with it and start ‘achieving’ real sleep. Getting them into a good routine is absolutely paramount to this.”

Aside from worry, other things that prevent children from sleeping are homework (26%), while one in five (19%) said electronic devices such as computers and televisions in the bedroom distracted them from sleep. In the US this figure jumped to a staggering 33%.

Kathleen said: “The proliferation of mobile phones and laptop computers means children feel like they need to be in touch all the time but they also need to understand that ‘switching off’ and indulging in quiet time is really important and actually quite normal. Parents can help by limiting computer time and encouraging an electronic-free bed environment.”

Tips to help your child get back into a worry-free sleep routine:

Impress on them the importance of a good night’s sleep
Encourage regular exercise
Suggest a reduction in caffeine (such as coke and other fizzy drinks)
Try and get them into a routine – doing things in the same order before going to bed at night will help
Create a restful sleeping environment – a room that is dark, cool, quiet, safe and comfortable
Make sure the bed is comfortable