Ten times more children are being drugged to combat sleep disorders* compared to ten years ago, according to recent analysis of NHS data by the BBC’s Panorama programme.
On the surface this seems to be strong supporting evidence for Sue Palmer’s theory of toxic childhood – the idea that a combination of factors associated with (post) modern life are harming children. The article lists three factors which are seen being responsible for increasing sleep deprivation among children
- Blue light emitted by smartphones and tablets reduces the production of melatonin, the ‘ sleepy hormone’ – NB I can just imagine a vicious cycle at work here – can’t sleep, get on your phone – which makes it less likely that you’ll get to sleep!
- Households where both parents work can be busier in the evenings, pushing bedtimes later – here’s a nice link to the concept of paranoid parenting – because children are the most precious things in parents lives, they have to see them before they go to bed, which does them unintentional harm.
- Fizzy drinks high in sugar and caffeine have also made it harder for children to switch off at night – which can also compound the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
Some of the possible harmful effects of sleep deprivation are as follows:
- Decreased concentration at school, leading to lower educational achievement
- Increasing illness
- An increase risk of obesity – according to this BBC article
- Also, it’s just generally not pleasant in itself.
Evaluations of the evidence
While this appears to be straight-up supporting evidence for Toxic Childhood, you need to be careful how the concepts are operationalised (see * below), also the fact that children are more likely to be taken to hospital doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in sleep deprivation, it might mean that paranoid parents are just more sensitive to the issue today, and/ or medical practitioners are happier to diagnose sleep, so this could all be a social construction….
*Actually TBH that statement’s a headline grabber – according to the article, adults and children aged 0-55 (combined) are more likely to be given prescriptions for sleep deprivation, but children are ten times more likely to have hospital appointments for the condition.