As the new school term started at the beginning of September, a school in America decided to post a sleep chart to help parents understand how much sleep their child needs and what time they should go to bed depending on what time they generally wake.
And the chart has gone viral – but probably not in the way Wilson Elementary School in Wisconsin wanted it too!
While they thought it was probably providing a very useful tool on social media instead it has stirred up a huge debate online from parents who think the timings are ‘totally unrealistic’ and that it was impractical for a 5 year old, who has to get up 7am, to have a bedtime of 7.30pm.
Some commented that the chart couldn’t be adhered to by working parents who get home at 6pm and then have to prepare dinner, check homework and sort baths and bedtimes. Something I empathise with – it’s hard juggling work and home and making sure everything and everyone gets sufficient time and attention.
Some pointed out the chart left little time for after school activities let alone quality family time. Others said it echoed their routine already and that to them sleep is the priority for their child.
We spoke to Vicki Dawson of The Children’s Sleep Charity who said: “Sleep is so important in order to ensure that children can meet their full potential in every aspect of their lives. It can be helpful to have an awareness of roughly how much sleep a child needs but we do need to consider that all children are individuals. A good bedtime is really helpful in order to plan the evening routine and fit in quality family time.”
The teacher behind the post explained that she wanted to share some tips with parents. She said, as teachers, they can tell which pupils are well-rested and ready for the day ahead, and which are not. Also, parents don’t seem to realise how sleep deprived their children are during the day and how it affects their behaviour and performance at school.
We surveyed teachers a couple of years ago and we were shocked to find that nearly a quarter (24%) of the teachers questioned admitted that they had had to resort to letting children who are very tired sleep in a corner of the classroom. For two thirds of teachers (65%) the problem is so serious they consider that the long term progress of their pupils can be affected while nearly half (48%) said lack of sleep made children unruly and badly behaved.
Reading the article and the comments really did strike a chord with me. I’m a working mum myself and trying to squeeze in school clubs, homework, family time etc is difficult. But it’s not impossible.
Both my soon to be 5 year old and 8 year old are usually upstairs by 7pm ready for quiet time. We spend time reading (that’s our quality family time – talking about our day and reading a book before bed) and my youngest is often asleep by 7.30pm and my 8 year old by 8.30pm. Don’t get me wrong, we are not rigid with this. Some days my youngest asks to go to bed earlier, some days it’s gone 8pm by time we’re getting him to sleep but generally on the whole we stick to this routine (even at weekends) as they both tend to wake between 6.45 and 7.15am. Our weekends are when we spend quality family time and also catch up on any homework.
I think it’s fair to say the school posted the chart as guidance. Some kids can function well on less sleep than others. It wasn’t ever meant to be set in stone but was intended to advise parents on roughly what sort of sleep patterns children of different ages need – many parents don’t actually know. A study we did in 2009 showed that 48% of parents with children under 5 didn’t know that a 3 year old needs 12 hours sleep a night, 33% didn’t know that 6-12 year olds needs 10 hours sleep and 39% didn’t know that teens need 8-9 hours a night.
Sleep and children will always be a hot topic and a serious issue so it’s important that schools, public health departments and parents all work together to help combat sleep deprivation in children.