Kids’ sleep crisis a wake-up call
Helen O’Callaghan says help is at hand for poor sleepers
SLEEP deprivation is at crisis point for young people in Ireland, experts warned recently at the launch of a new toolkit to help youngsters get healthy amounts of sleep.
The toolkit grew out of a questionnaire done in Arklow schools after teachers noticed pupils were not concentrating. “We found young people were on devices late into the night. They were on mobile phones, texting friends, on WhatsApp,” says Dr Patrick Loughran, senior clinical psychologist working with children and adolescents in HSE Wicklow.
Nocturnal obsession with devices had damaged some kids’ sleep pattern so much they were using cannabis to get to sleep. Dr Loughran doesn’t for a moment believe poor sleep among teens is confined to South Wicklow. “It can’t be that substantially different in Arklow than elsewhere.”
Pointing out that good sleep is taught — small children need training into a sleep routine — he says parents must be vigilant about kids’ sleep even in later primary and secondary school. “Right into adolescence, there’s need for parental guidance and keeping a check on it. Yes, it’s trickier with older children — they’re more independent and influenced by peers rather than by parents. Nevertheless, 14- to 16-year-olds should be getting nine hours’ sleep,” he says.
Signs a child isn’t getting enough sleep include tiredness, moodiness and irritability — low mood can cause social isolation. “They won’t necessarily see the link between their low mood and lack of sleep, so parents need to get on board and say ‘I’m not happy about this. I have a hunch about why it’s happening. We have to rein things in’,” says Dr Loughran, who has seen young people burst into tears as parents try to negotiate night-time shutdown periods for devices.
With sleep ultra-sensitive to disruption, Dr Loughran says young people can become extremely anxious about it — this perpetuates the cycle. The free toolkit sets out ways to prevent sleep becoming a problem. It addresses stress, diet, physical activity, drug and alcohol use in young people and encourages changes to poor sleep hygiene. “If a child’s overthinking their worries, there’s advice on how to get on top of that ruminative thinking. There’s a nice piece around settling the mind at night and using relaxation exercises,” says Dr Loughran.
‘The Sleep Programme’ is available for free download from: www.crosscare.ie, www.kwetb.ie and www.docchildandfamily.ie.
SHUT EYE: Sam Arslan and Shannon Lamber at the launch of a new toolkit for improved sleep.