UK Schools Now Offering Sleep Lessons to Exhausted Kids

CC BY 2.0. Mike Licht

Health care providers are alarmed by the rise in sleep disorders, but is it the kids or the parents who are in need of education?

That young people don't sleep enough should come as no surprise to parents, who are often frustrated by the night-owl tendencies and early morning lethargy of their offspring. But the problem may be far more serious than parents realize. Sleep, British researchers announced in a BMJ study published last fall, has a greater impact on a child's wellbeing than bullying, physical activity, and screen time.

Other experts have called sleep issues a "hidden public health crisis" and say it is being diagnosed in ever-growing numbers. The Guardian reported that an analysis of National Health Service data 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... in the same period."

So, it would seem fitting that the PSHE Association (the national body for Personal, Social, Health and Economic education professionals in the United Kingdom), in conjunction with the Evelina London children’s hospital, has recently published a curriculum for teaching children how to sleep. The new Sleep Factor lesson plans, now available online for members to download, are designed to help students between the ages of 7 and 16 to:

– Recognise what good quality sleep is and why it is important
– Identify habits and routines that promote good quality sleep
– Understand how sleep patterns change during adolescence

One of the co-authors of the BMJ study, Prof. Russell Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has endorsed the curriculum, stating:

"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."

I can't help but think that this is incredibly sad, that the sleep situation has come to this – the new domain of the public education system! While some classroom-based education about good sleep hygiene is better than none, it strikes me as absurd that parents now rely on their kids to come home from school and tell them what to do.

Isn't ensuring a good night's sleep one of the most basic requirements of parenting, along with clothing and feeding a kid? Of course there are countless parents who fail, tragically, in those other requirements, but those are usually exceptions to the rule. In the case of sleep deprivation, however, this appears to be a rampant issue.

We adults should know better than anyone that establishing good sleep habits is more often a matter of discipline than an actual disorder. Knowing when to put down the smartphone, turn off the TV, stop drinking caffeine, and get enough exercise to tire out your body are daily acts of discipline that have a direct impact on one's quality of sleep.

Experts say the increase in sleep problems is driven by a combination of "higher obesity levels, excessive use of social media before bedtime, and a mental health crisis among young people." Parents, that's where you need to step in. Be the authoritative figure your kid so desperately needs and the 'bad guy' if you must. Confiscate that phone without a backward glance.

The more adults on board fighting this crisis, the better, but let's not lose sight of who's supposed to be in charge here – the parent. If kids between 6 and 12 need 9-12 hours of sleep per night and teens between 13 and 18 need 8-10 hours (based on AAP guidelines), that means a parent should reserve anywhere from 9 to 13 hours for sleep and its related activities every night, to ensure that the child has sufficient time to unwind, get ready, and settle into sleep.

Of course they'll fight it. That's what kids do. But if it means greater mental stability and wellbeing over the long-term, why would you not do it for them?