Britain’s top sleep experts are calling for the importance of a good night’s sleep to be taught in schools.

Dr Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, independent sleep consultant Dr Neil Stanley, Kathleen McGrath, sleep nurse and founder of Sleep Matters and Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council believe teaching children the value of good sleep should rank alongside the importance of healthy food and exercise in schools.

And their call for action is supported by nearly three-quarters of the public.

A survey by The Sleep Council* found 73% of respondents thought children should be taught about the importance of a good night’s sleep at school. Six out of 10 (60%) went as far as to say sleep education should be included in the national curriculum.

At the moment, there is no legal requirement to include anything about sleep on the school timetable. The word ‘sleep’ does not even appear in official national curriculum guidelines.

“Sleep is a basic and fundamental human requirement and is vitally important for good physical, mental and emotional health,” said Dr Neil Stanley. “It’s crucial for memory, learning and growth which means that it is necessary for children to get enough sleep. The government’s Change 4 Life programme does not mention sleep, either, let alone it getting taught in school.”

Dr Chris Idzikowski, one of the UK’s most eminent sleep specialists said: “Our education system must take this subject on board in a serious and structured way. We teach children about nutrition and ensure regular exercise is part of their weekly activities but the third critical ingredient of a healthy lifestyle – sleep – is barely touched upon.”

And he emphasised that poor sleep habits from an early age can lead to long term sleep problems. Lack of sleep is also directly linked to obesity, heart disease, mental illnesses and other life threatening conditions in later life.

While adults recognise the importance of sleep – 80% of those questioned agreed a good night’s sleep is important to help a child do well at school – the survey highlighted a significant lack of understanding and education about the subject:

• Over 48% of parents with children under 5 don’t not know that a 3 year old needs 12 hours sleep

• Almost one-third of parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night (33%)

• Less than four out of 10 parents (39%) know that teenagers need 8-9 hours sleep

• Only 5% of adults had any education about sleep and its benefits at school

• Only 6% of respondents have been advised about good sleep/ the benefits of good sleep by a teacher

Said Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council, which has just published a new guide for parents about children and sleep: “The lack of education about sleep and the factors critical to achieving the necessary quantity and quality must be addressed in schools as well as the home if today’s youngsters are to take the subject seriously.”

And judging by the level of worry among parents, Britain’s schoolchildren are not taking sleep anywhere near seriously enough. Two thirds of parents (67%) admitted they were at least sometimes worried about the amount or quality of sleep their children got and 96% agreed lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is damaging to the health and wellbeing of children.

Asked what they thought were the most important factors in getting a good night’s sleep, survey respondents placed regular hours first and a comfortable bed second. Other factors known to affect sleep quality, such as a dark room, no gadgets, exercise and a nutritious diet were not considered so important.

“Parents appear to be aware that good sleep has a link to good health and educational benefits, but these survey results reveal they aren’t equipped with the knowledge they need,” said Kathleen McGrath, author of The Sleep Council’s new guide. “They receive virtually no help or guidance to judge how much sleep is needed or how to create the best sleep environment and routines for their children.

“Daytime tiredness in young students is a real problem, so schools need to provide more formalised information about the benefits of sleep as part of ongoing compulsory health education.”

The Sleep Council’s new ‘Goodnight Guide For Children’ guide is available, free of charge, by calling 0800 018 7923 or through the website.

* The Sleep Council’s ‘Pillow Time’ survey was conducted online by Opinion Matters between 18/09/09 and 29/09/09. Sample size: 2008 UK adults.

Other findings from the survey: • Women appear to be more aware of the negative effects of lack of sleep on their children. 61% (men 47%) strongly agreed that lack of sleep or poor quality sleep was damaging to the health and wellbeing of children. • Most people know that decreasing concentration levels (88% of those questioned) and irritability (84%) are among the main side effects of lack of sleep – although only 35% thought it led to a reduced ability to make decisions. • A staggering two-thirds of those questioned (67%) said they had never been advised about good sleep by a GP, health visitor, midwife, teacher, specialist consultant or university lecturer. Of those who had been advised, 18% said it was by a GP – and only 6% by a teacher. • Health visitors are the most likely source of advice on sleep for parents with children under five – nearly four in 10 (38%) received help from this source • Surprisingly it was younger rather than older respondents who felt most strongly that it would be helpful to include sleep education as part of the national curriculum with nearly one in five 16-24-year-olds questioned strongly agreeing that it should be included. • 95% of those questioned said they did not receive any education about sleep and its benefits at secondary school or university. • After a stable home environment (ranked first by 83% of those questioned), a good night’s sleep, every night, was rated as the next most important factor in helping a child to do well at school (80%). It was regarded as even more important than a healthy diet (69%).

Regional findings:

Birmingham 65% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 94% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 77% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 48% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 9% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 6% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 27% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 30% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Brighton 65% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 95% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 78% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 53% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 3% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 2% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 28% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 30% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Bristol 65% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 96% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 78% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 63% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 5% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 39% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 40% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Cardiff 58% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 99% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 80% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 62% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 3% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 37% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 37% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Edinburgh 63% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 98% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 83% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 65% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 4% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 35% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 30% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Glasgow 64% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 94% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 79% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 52% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 7% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 4% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 32% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 31% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Leeds 73% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 98% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 81% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 62% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 5% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 36% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 43% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Liverpool 64% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 93% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 80% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 54% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 6% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 3% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 31% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 34% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

London 68% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 96% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 83% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 62% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 9% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 5% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 31% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 31% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Manchester 70% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 97% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 80% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 63% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 6% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 7% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 37% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 39% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Newcastle 67% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 93% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 82% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 56% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 3% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 7% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 29% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 27% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Norwich 67% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 95% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 77% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 58% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 1% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 26% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 37% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Nottingham 65% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 94% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 81% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 69% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 5% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 3% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 38% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 42% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Plymouth 74% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 95% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 80% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 51% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 4% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 9% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 45% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 39% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Sheffield 74% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 96% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 82% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 66% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 8% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 2% have received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 30% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 40% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

Southampton 66% are concerned about the amount or quality of sleep their child gets 96% believe the lack of sleep or poor quality sleep damages the health and wellbeing of children 76% say a good sleep every night is the most important thing for a child to do well at school 60% believe sleep education should be part of the National Curriculum Only 8% have been advised on the benefits of good sleep in children by a teacher Only 13% received any education about benefits of sleep during secondary school/university 37% of parents know that a thee year old needs 12 hours sleep 46% parents don’t know that 6-12 year olds need 10 hours of sleep a night

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