Daniel Tay­lor

The Observer - - News - Har­riet Sher­wood

on the strange death of coach Kit Car­son Sport, page 10

Sleep ex­perts are warn­ing of an epi­demic of sleep de­pri­va­tion among school-aged chil­dren, with some urg­ing ed­u­ca­tional author­i­ties to al­ter school hours to al­low ado­les­cents to stay in bed longer.

Ad­e­quate sleep is the strong­est fac­tor in the well­be­ing and men­tal health of teenagers, and a short­age is linked to poor ed­u­ca­tional re­sults, anx­i­ety and obe­sity, they say. Last week, the French ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter ap­proved a pro­posal to push back by an hour the start of the school day to 9am for stu­dents aged 15-18 in Paris.

It fol­lowed the pub­li­ca­tion in De­cem­ber of a study of teenagers in Seat­tle which found a “sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the sleep du­ra­tion of stu­dents” af­ter the start of the school day was de­layed by al­most an hour.

“The Paris de­ci­sion can only be a good thing for the chil­dren,” said Dr Neil Stan­ley, au­thor of How To Sleep Well, who has noted in­creas­ing sleep prob­lems in chil­dren and teenagers. “For the ben­e­fit of our chil­dren start times should be moved later, bring­ing them more in line with teenagers’ bi­o­log­i­cal rhythms.”

Mandy Gur­ney, founder of Millpond Chil­dren’s Sleep Clinic, has seen a 30% rise in re­fer­rals of school-aged chil­dren in the last 12 months. Lisa Ar­tis of the Sleep Coun­cil also said there had been a “no­tice­able rise” in sleep de­pri­va­tion among school chil­dren. “A change in the school day would be ben­e­fi­cial to teenagers, but it would take a mas­sive cam­paign for it to hap­pen. The school day is de­signed to fit in with the stan­dard work­ing day.”

The Ed­u­ca­tion En­dow­ment Foun­da­tion funds Teensleep, a re­search project by Ox­ford and Durham uni­ver­si­ties. Teensleep wanted to eval­u­ate the im­pact of a later start to the school day, but not enough schools signed up for a trial. Now it is ex­am­in­ing the con­se­quences of “sleep ed­u­ca­tion” in schools, with the re­sults due to be pub­lished in the spring.

Guid­ance in pro­vid­ing sleep les­sons for pupils aged seven to 16 was rolled out to teach­ers last month.

Sci­en­tists say that hu­mans’ cir­ca­dian rhythms – the body clock that man­ages the cy­cle of sleep and wake­ful­ness – change in ado­les­cence. The cy­cle shifts two hours in teenagers which means that they are wired to go to sleep and wake up later. “It’s like they’re in a dif­fer­ent time zone,” said Dr Michael Far­quhar, a con­sul­tant in pae­di­atric sleep medicine at the Evelina chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal in Lon­don.

“We’re ask­ing them to get up be­fore their body clock is ready, be­cause that’s the way the adult world works. So most teenagers end up sleep-de­prived.”

Sleep is the “strong­est pre­dic­tor of well­be­ing among teenagers”, said Rus­sell Viner, pro­fes­sor of ado­les­cent health at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don and pres­i­dent of the Royal Col­lege of Pae­di­atrics and Child Health.

He co-au­thored a paper, pub­lished in the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal in Novem­ber, based on a study of more than 120,000 15-year-olds which pointed to in­creas­ing ev­i­dence of the dan­gers of in­ad­e­quate sleep.

“When we think about all the things par­ents worry about, the ef­fects of sleep are about four times higher than the ef­fects of smart­phone use,” he said. “There is ma­jor de­vel­op­ment of the brain in pu­berty. We need to go back to ba­sics: more fo­cus on sleep, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and diet.”

Far­quhar said: “If we could re­wire the world to suit teenagers, we’d see ben­e­fits. But there are prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in do­ing that. So, as a start, schools could not sched­ule dou­ble maths at 8.30am and per­haps make PE the first les­son of the day.”

Alamy

Teenagers’ body clocks shift for­ward by two hours – not ideal for an early start.

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