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How much sleep does a child need?

WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...

A questionnaire sent to children suggests many are getting less sleep than they need. But how much sleep is necessary?

Confronted with the multiple ills of growing up, concerned parents will typically blame their offspring's unruly behaviour on one cause more than any other: tiredness.

The results of a questionnaire among children aged nine to 11, for BBC's Newsround, suggest they may have a point. Many are staying up late to play video games, watch TV or text their friends.

Although sleep recommendations might vary through our lifetimes, the one consistent factor is that few of us are actually getting enough of it.

Sleep graph

A human's need for sleep can decline by up to 11 hours a day during the course of a lifetime - from a maximum of 18 hours for a newborn baby to seven hours as an adult.

But while our sleep targets are clear, many children are failing to honour them.

While the Newsround questionnaire doesn't conclude children are not getting enough sleep, its findings suggest many are going to bed later while still having to wake up for school.

THE ANSWER
Between 18 and eight hours, depending on age
There is a sliding scale which runs inverse to age

A 2004 study by the National Sleep Foundation showed that on average, children in the US get nearly a full hour less sleep than recommended at night.

Twelve per cent of participants slept fewer than eight hours, while only 10% got the recommended 10-11 hours. Two-thirds of the children experienced "frequent sleep problems," which included difficulty falling asleep, sleepiness during the day, and trouble breathing while asleep.

School-aged children were most likely to have difficulty waking in the morning, which according to Derk-Jan Dijk, director of the Surrey Sleep Centre, is a sign they need more sleep.

"Children in particular are affected by sleep deprivation," says Mr Dijk. "At that stage in life we accept how the lack of sleep has an impact on behaviour and mood."

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Scientists have linked a lack of sleep in children to problems with concentration and schoolwork, says Dr Neil Stanley, a freelance sleep expert. He also also says sleep plays a key role in bodily growth.

But if modern distractions are causing many children to lose sleep, hasn't this long been the case? Did the advent of the electric light not give children, among others, just another reason to stay up late?

Fears about lack of sleep have been with us for at least a century, says Professor Jim Horne, director of the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre.

He cites an article in the journal Nature from 1908, which reported a meeting of the Child Studies Society. The then president of the society, Sir James Crichton-Browne, commented that "the evil of insufficient sleep is widespread amongst children".

Mr Horne says sleep cannot have been easy in the cold and crowded homes that were once commonplace.

WHO, WHAT, WHY?
Question mark floor plan of BBC Television Centre
A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

"If you think about what life must have been like in those days, children would be crammed into one bedroom, with the older ones staying up later. The beds would be uncomfortable, damp maybe. So a good sleep would have been hard to come by.

"I suppose the reluctance to go to sleep when your parents tell you has been built into the psyche of children since the beginning of time."

But if sleep deprivation has been with us for many years, Mr Horne believes it is more acutely felt these days.

"If you were a child in the Victorian times not getting enough sleep probably didn't matter so much... if you are sitting in school with a slate and a stick of chalk. Schooling and education are so much more intense now. Kids nowadays have to hit the deck running every morning, they are so crammed full of information."



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