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Could lack of sleep damage mental health of children?

CONCERNS: By getting less than the recommended 10 hours a night, the mental health of children could be affected

A LEADING psychologist is calling for British children to get more sleep after research has revealed their mental health could be seriously impacted by getting less than the recommended 10 hours a night.

The new research from bedmaker Silentnight and the University of Leeds, found that 36 per cent of primary school age children get eight hours or less sleep a night and a worrying 15 per cent are getting as little as seven hours or less a night; and psychologist Dr Anna Weighall from the University of Leeds, believes levels this low could be dramatically impacting children's ability to function in day to day life.

The comments from Dr Weighall come during Children’s Mental Health Week (6th - 12 February) which aims to reduce the stigma around mental health and get children talking about complex feelings. She says: “Our research, carried out in conjunction with Silentnight, shows a strong relationship between poor sleep and reduced health related quality of life.

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

Previous studies show that 90 per cent of children with major depression have some kind of sleep problem — with more than one half of insomnia cases related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress. Poor sleep is also common in disorders like ADHD and autism.

In the short term, those struggling with sleep are more likely to be irritable and lacking in concentration, something that also impacts academic development, causing problems paying attention in class and keeping up with school work, as well as causing children to end up missing school because they feel unwell. It can also affect emotional regulation, which can affect peer relationships too.

Sleep deprivation decreases the efficiency of something called ‘top-down inhibition’ which enables children to control and regulate their behaviour. This behaviour has been shown to limit the functioning of the emotional processing at the centre of the brain (the amygdala) which explains the effects of lack of sleep on mood and emotion.

The research from the University of Leeds and Silentnight found that among concerns keeping children awake at night were worries about bullying and worries about homework, with one in six parents saying their children’s sleep has been affected by bullying,

Essentially, lack of sleep lowers the threshold at which we will experience an event as stressful.
The healthiest approach if your child is suffering from anxiety or feeling low is to try and establish a regular bedtime routine, ensuring they rise at the same time every day. When people suffer from anxiety or stress their sleep patterns can be compromised. This, Dr Anna Weighall argues, is when children need those precious 10 hours that the NHS recommends.

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