Children need more of the sleep that 'knits up the ravelled sleave of care'

30th September 2011 at 01:00
Sleep deprivation affects basic functions such as growth hormones and the immune system, not to mention lessons

Teachers know which of their pupils are chronically sleep-deprived. They are the ones who are always tired, impulsive and unable to concentrate. They may not know, however, that they can make a difference in the class.

As an educational psychologist and trained sleep counsellor, I welcomed Sleep Scotland's sleep awareness pilot study in three Glasgow secondary schools (TES Magazine, 4 June, 2010). I was interested in trialling the programme in my authority, West Lothian. A primary and a secondary school volunteered for the project, and Sleep Scotland trained an action enquiry team of educational psychologist, trainee psychologist and research assistant to deliver its new Sound Sleep programme.

Jane Ansell, director and founder of the charity Sleep Scotland, says: "You would not dream of letting your child starve at school all day, but most people don't appreciate that being sleep-starved can affect your child's behaviour, concentration and ability to learn, and that's not even including the many other health consequences, such as obesity and depression". Chronic sleep deprivation affects even such basic functions as growth hormones and the immune system.

In fact, symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation mirror the behaviours typically associated with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) - poor attention, emotional lability, impulsive behaviour, poor memory, hyperactivity. Many clinicians take a sleep history before considering diagnosis and medication.

Sleep is a neglected factor for most services. Look around the professionals at a child's integrated assessment meeting - school staff, social worker, speech therapist. All are concerned with the child's daytime behaviour and sleep is nobody's business. Although educational psychologists are concerned with all aspects of a child's life that affect their learning, we too have largely ignored the impact of sleep deprivation.

The Sound Sleep programmes consist of a series of one-hour lessons, presented in a pack for each age group. One primary pupil said: "I liked when we were doing the sleep diaries because it was good and I got in a routine." A secondary pupil said: "It was very informing and made me more aware of the changes I need to make to my sleep patterns to stay healthy."

Staff members in both schools intend to build the programme into their personal and social development curriculum. Further developments will explore better ways of gathering detailed quantitative evaluation data, as it proved difficult for children to fill in sleep diaries accurately. In addition, it is planned to deliver the same training to parents, who can support their children in improving the "Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care" (Macbeth).

Miriam Landor, Educational psychologist.

Miriam Landor, Louise Morris and Lesley Nelson worked together on the enquiry team in West Lothian.

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