Sleep… Not an optional extra

I’m not sure that this will win me many friends in the lunch queue on Monday, but here goes.  
There is a common “go to” response which parents receive when they challenge their children.  It is the one that goes, “Well everyone else is allowed to (insert preposterous suggestion)…”  The reality of any given scenario is that some may be allowed to do whatever it was that was being questioned, but the vast majority won’t. Not every pupil will be on their iPad until midnight (or after), not every child sleeps in the same room as their ‘phone, the vast majority are not going to overnight parties, nor is the whole of the year group playing the Xbox until the early hours.  Children often say things to each other that do not reflect reality.   
Last weekend’s Guardian newspaper had a fascinating article on the rise of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation among young people. Sleep is a subject that becomes of great interest at this time of term as work piles up and there seem to be fewer hours in the day.  The medical study of sleep continues to generate facts supporting the view that sleeping is one of the most important things that we as humans do.  It isn’t an optional extra as some will have you believe.  As I go around school it is often very clear very quickly which pupils are not sleeping enough.  They can be testy, don’t concentrate as well and often they aren’t performing at their full academic potential.  Whilst sleep might not be a panacea, it seems to be potent stuff.  Not enough sleep leads to a raft of additional challenges for young people both mental and physical.  Perhaps staying up late is not such a great treat after all.  Dr Guy Meadow, a sleep physiologist warns that, “Some research shows that if children are sleep deprived by just an hour a night, it could reduce their cognitive academic performance by up to two whole years”.  Sleep it seems is a powerful performance enhancer; the brain does some of its most important processing work when the head is on the pillow and eyes are closed.  
Back in the day I read under the bed covers using the light of a torch.  Whilst Five on Treasure Island was a captivating read the book did actually run out of pages so there was a natural end to the staying up.  My mother was generally on the look-out and was never shy to confiscate both lamp and paperback.   Screen based games rarely end and they are designed to tempt the player into going just a little longer.  Another pressure on our young people alongside the adventures of Timmy the dog and his companions.  Mobile devices are also difficult for us as parents to confiscate because “everyone else is allowed to take their device into their room”.  It is a wearying argument to have at the end of a long day.  But if you want to be convinced that it is a discussion worth having, read the article.  There is also excellent advice on the Children’s Sleep Charity Website. Oh yes, and not everyone has their ‘phone or tablet on their bedside table. Honestly, I do hope that you have a good night’s sleep.
Nicholas Hammond

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