Between the ubiquity of smartphones and the lure of staying connected 24/7, more and more young people are getting far fewer hours of sleep each night than they should. It’s been found that even just one hour of social media use a day can significantly affect sleep health. School systems all over the world are noticing symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation in their students, leading some to experiment with later school times to help remedy the problem. Now, new research published by the University of Leeds in conjunction with mattress maker Silentnight found that the problem of primary school children not getting enough sleep is more widespread than previously thought. Is it time we start taking children’s sleep seriously?

The study reported 36% of children in primary school in the UK aged 11 or under get eight hours or less sleep a night, while 15% get less than seven hours. Psychologist Anna Weighall, one of the authors of the study, says the data are bad news to mental health professionals who work with children:

Mental ill health can have a negative impact on sleep. Likewise, poor sleep patterns can make mental health issues worse and I certainly think that lack of sleep can make mental health issues worse.

Could sleep disorders be behind the uptick in many mental health issues seen in children? Or have our diagnostic methods gotten better? Who knows. Still, with all the known negative side effects of sleep deprivation, these numbers should be of concern to students, parents, educators, and medical professionals alike.

These new figures are likely no surprise to educators and administrators, many of whom have been pushing for later school start times in some cities in order to better help students get a healthy night’s sleep each night. Some studies have even claimed that pushing school start times back just a half an hour could result in a massive boost to the economy over time. Will students just stay up later in return, though? I know I would have.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact him at [email protected]

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