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The Forgotten Pillar of Mental Health: Why Sleep Matters for Children and Young People

In a world that never seems to slow down, sleep often takes a backseat, especially for children and young people. Yet, it's crucial to recognise that adequate sleep isn't just a luxury; it's a fundamental pillar of mental health and wellbeing. Our recent youHQ surveys have underscored this, with over four thousand young people linking inadequate sleep to their struggles with mood and mental wellbeing. Let's delve into why we at youHQ are prioritising sleep as a non-negotiable when it comes to safeguarding the mental health of our children and youth.


The Sleep Crisis Among Young People

In today's digital age, where screens dominate both day and night, sleep deprivation has become a pervasive issue, especially among children and adolescents. A number of factors contributes to this, including academic pressures, social media, irregular sleep schedules, and heightened stress levels. As a consequence, many young individuals find themselves caught in a vicious cycle: the more they grapple with sleeplessness, the more their mental health suffers, and vice versa.


Young boy with curly light brown hair sits on a bed, playing with a mobile phone


The Science Behind Sleep and Mental Health

The connection between sleep and mental health is profound and well-documented. Sleep serves as a crucial time for the brain to rest, recharge, and consolidate memories. During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, essential cognitive processes occur, such as emotional regulation and stress processing. When sleep is compromised, these vital functions are disrupted, leaving individuals vulnerable to a myriad of emotional challenges.


Studies have consistently shown that insufficient sleep is strongly correlated with mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety among young people. In fact, research suggests that adolescents with sleep disturbances are at a significantly higher risk of developing depression later in life. Sleep deprivation exacerbates existing mental health conditions, making it harder for individuals to cope with stressors and regulate their emotions effectively. These topics are covered in our youHQ in-app ‘Understanding Better Sleep Courses’. The courses are intuitively and automatically signposted to students when sleep is logged as a stressor.


The Ripple Effect on Daily Functioning

The consequences of inadequate sleep extend far beyond mood. Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function, attention, and decision-making abilities, all of which are essential for academic success and overall wellbeing. Inadequate sleep also compromises physical health, increasing the risk of obesity, weakened immune function, and other chronic conditions.

The impact of poor sleep doesn't stop at the individual level; it reverberates throughout society. Sleep deprived children and adolescents are more likely to exhibit behavioural problems, experience conflicts in interpersonal relationships, and struggle with impulse control—all of which can have far reaching implications for their future success. 


Girl, wearing a red long sleeved t-shirt, slumps forward at her desk. Her head touches the touchpad of her computer, with her eyes closed sleepily.


Prioritising Sleep: A Collective Responsibility

Addressing the sleep crisis among young people requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including parents, educators, policymakers, and healthcare professionals. It begins with raising awareness about the importance of sleep hygiene and fostering healthy sleep habits from an early age. This entails establishing consistent bedtime routines, creating conducive sleep environments, and limiting screen time before bedtime.


Schools play a pivotal role in promoting sleep-friendly policies, such as later start times to accommodate the natural sleep patterns of adolescents. Educators can incorporate sleep education into the curriculum, empowering students with the knowledge and skills to prioritise their sleep health effectively. This is hard, which is why youHQ, via our dedicated pastoral hub and learning resources, has been designed to form part of their students’ holistic wellbeing and personal development journey.


Conclusion

As we confront the multifaceted challenges of mental health in today's youth, it's vital not to overlook the critical role that sleep plays in the equation. The testimonials of thousands of young people struggling with sleep deprivation-related mood disturbances serve as a poignant reminder of the urgency of the issue. By recognising sleep as a vital pillar of mental health and taking proactive steps to prioritise it, we can nurture a generation of resilient, emotionally balanced individuals poised to thrive in all aspects of their lives. Let's commit to ensuring that every child and young person has the opportunity to get the restorative sleep they need to flourish and fulfil their potential.



 

This blog was written by Jez Belas, Sales and Engagement Director for youHQ and Life on Time Ltd. Jez has 16 years of teaching experience and until recently was Head of PE and Wellbeing at an independent school in Berkshire.


For more information about our school wellbeing platform and to sign up for a free demo, please click here. 

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