New data shows that sleep issues among teens and children are worse than ever before — and on the rise. A new analysis of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service hospital admission data by the Guardian reveals a striking — and worrying — rise in hospital admission among teens and children with sleep problems: The numbers have gone from 6,520 in 2012-2013, to 9,429 last year.
The Guardian notes that rising anxiety among children aged 16 and under contributes to this “hidden public health disaster.” Indeed, sleep issues experienced a significant spike after extremely stressful events like the Manchester bombing and other terror incidents. These events add to the more commonplace sources of anxiety that children and teens are already dealing with: the perennial school and peer pressures, as well as newer pressures stemming from social media.
Blue light is also a contributing factor, the Guardian notes — children are using their devices right up until bedtime, and the blue-colored light their screens emit fools their bodies into thinking it’s still daytime, suppressing the production of sleep hormones. This makes it difficult to get to sleep, or to know when your body needs to clock out.
There’s also a connection to be drawn between this hidden crisis and another major public health crisis affecting children and teens: obesity. Obesity affects sleep by restricting air-flow and interrupting deep night-time rest, says sleep medicine consultant Dr. Michael Farquhar, M.D., of the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, UK.
This NHS data suggests that children are bearing a significant burden — suffering from, in many cases, anxiety, obesity, and an unhealthy relationship with technology — and it proves that our culture needs a course correction.
If you or your children have been experiencing sleep troubles, here are some microsteps for you to try.
Shut off screens an hour before bedtime
To keep your screen from keeping you up, cut off screen time earlier in the evening. This, according to Vicki Dawson, founder of the NHS-funded Children’s Sleep Charity, helps address the effect of blue light on sleep by giving the body a little distance from “daylight” from it before it’s time to sleep. Have your kids curl up with a paper book or journal, or settle in for a chat or storytime with them. Use that last hour of the day (or two or three hours!) to unwind away from screens.
Stay away from caffeine at night
Staying away from coffee or sugary soda before bedtime will keep you and your kids from being wound up with energy. For children and teens, in particular, Dawson cautions that the consumption of sugary drinks or energy drinks in general can negatively affect nighttime sleep.