Kids’ sleep cri­sis a wake-up call

He­len O’Cal­laghan says help is at hand for poor sleep­ers

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

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.

Picture: Tommy Clancy

SHUT EYE: Sam Arslan and Shannon Lam­ber at the launch of a new tool­kit for im­proved sleep.

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