Adequate sleep is vital for a child’s health and wellbeing. That much is obvious. Without it their memory, attention span even immunity is compromised.
But a British headmaster has taken the argument one step further, attributing lack of sleep to mental illness in school-age children.
Shaun Fenton of Reigate Grammar School in Surrey told The Times a “dreadful cocktail” of too little exercise, stimulating after-school activities and electronic devices for students accruing damaging sleep deficits.
Deficits, he argues, that contribute to depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
“In future we will say, ‘Why did we not see the damage we were doing to our children by letting them have a lifestyle that robbed them of a good night’s sleep on a daily basis?’” he told The Times.
“This is not about a few irresponsible children. It is about all our children.”
Fenton believes that parents and educators are at risk of “betraying the next generation”, unless they act now. That, he argues, means enforcing firm routines, sleep lessons and a curfew for electronic devices.
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Dr Chris Seton, Paediatric Sleep Specialist from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research says Fenton’s comments are entirely valid.
“There’s a relationship between sleep deprivation and every single mental health disorder. Bar none,” he told Mamamia.
Dr Seton says the strength of the relationship between the two varies – depression and anxiety, for example, are among the most closely tied to lack of sleep – and notes the connection works both ways: mood disorders can cause poor sleep and poor sleep can trigger mood disorders.
It’s a vicious cycle, he argues, that can lead to children being misdiagnosed.
“I saw a kid today who’s been labelled as depressed and for five years has been on a cocktail of medications for depression, and none of them have worked because the kid is sleep deprived,” said Dr Seton. “He doesn’t have primary depression, he has depression from poor sleep.”