How to save our children from “debt of sleep”: advice from experts

In the early 1960s, comedian Claude Laidou achieved unexpected success with an iconic show: Bonne nuit les petits. In this soap opera, broadcast daily on RTF, Big Bear and Ulysses the Sandman tell a story to two children before sending them to bed. The concept is simple but in vogue: before 20:00 the news is broadcast on the only channel of the time, the credits signal to the youngest that it is time for bed. Half a century later, the Sandman disappeared from the screens, and it seems that today he has much more problems with putting the Pimprenels and Nicolas to sleep.

No more bedtime before 8pm: According to the National Institute of Sleep and Vigilance, more than a third of children aged 10 and under (38%) go to bed after 9pm on weekdays. More than half stay up after this time on weekends. Most have irregular working hours, they do not fall asleep and do not get up at a certain time. Ridiculous? Never ! These bad habits increase the risk of “sleep debt,” meaning less rest time than they need. Deficiency is already a problem for adults. For the youngest, this happens at a crucial moment in their physical and intellectual development. With the risk of irreversible impact on their mental health and learning ability.


You only need to look at the sleep needs of each age group to understand this. When a newborn sleeps 16 to 20 hours a night, a child aged 3 to 5 will need to sleep 12 hours versus “only” 10 hours for 12 to 14 year olds. Even teenagers over the age of 15 need at least 9 hours of sleep to be fit, while adults can sleep 7 hours a night. For these large time intervals, it is necessary to take into account the individual characteristics of each baby. “The need for sleep is largely determined genetically,” says Géraldine Rausch, a researcher at the Institute of Blood and Brain at the University of Caen-Normandie and Inserm. “From birth, there are babies and people who sleep soundly. However, these averages are a good reference tool: in elementary school, following them means that the child should get up at 7:30 and go to bed … at the latest at 20:30! In the same way, in order to wake up early in the morning at the same time, a high school student had to turn off the light at 21:30 and a high school student at 22:30.

But it is difficult for families to strictly follow these instructions. “Since the 1970s, we’ve been losing hours of sleep regularly,” says Sabina Plankulen, a researcher at Inserm and a specialist in the field. – It seems that parents themselves partially model the needs of their children, forcing them to adapt to their rhythm of life. Thus, lack of sleep in toddlers has an organizational origin: it is difficult to strictly adhere to the recommended sleep times for children when both parents are working. It’s also difficult to get her offspring to fall asleep early when she’s using the screens a lot. On average, in 2017, children aged 6 to 17 spent 4 hours and 11 minutes a day in front of their tablet or computer. Adults, 5:07 am. “In children, as in adults, lack of sleep is largely related to environmental factors, that is, to the house in which a person develops,” says Dr. the baby who sleeps well (Nathan editions). Attention is taken hostage and an environment that makes it difficult to sleep: The noise of cars, restaurants in the city, and temperature fluctuations associated with climate change make it difficult to fall asleep.

Attention Deficit Risk

For the youngest, this sleep loss is all the more detrimental because the brain is in its full development stage. If there are not so many experiments with sleep deprivation in children and newborns, the experiments carried out show a significant effect. An American study found that a 5-hour night forced on children aged 10 to 14 was enough to disrupt their learning. Another experiment, this time conducted on a group of children aged 9 to 12, showed a significant improvement in their performance in school, as well as their behavior when their sleep met their needs. Therefore, a restless and angry child at the end of the day is most often a tired child. Similarly, several studies have shown that infants with sleep disorders are later breeding grounds for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “A child who sleeps only six hours a night quickly develops sleep deprivation,” notes Dr. Lesendro, who recalls visiting this 14-year-old attention deficit patient: “Before resorting to any medication, I recommended it family to return to normal sleep patterns for his age group. Let’s see if the issue resolves itself.”

Like adults, lack of sleep can also cause them to experience mood swings, which can become more prolonged over time and contribute to anxiety and depression. “Sleep has a very powerful effect on mental life because at night the brain processes and metabolizes our emotions,” says Dr. Mark Ray, a neurologist and president of the National Sleep and Wake Institute. “If a child is depressed, it’s simple: keep him awake.” A fascinating picture that overlooks an important element: sleep habits adopted after birth and early childhood often haunt us into adulthood. An infant who sleeps poorly tends to turn into a teenager and then into an adult who will struggle to find restorative sleep… and risk suffering from some disorders.

In order to promote the relaxation of babies, scientists recommend the importance of education on this issue, which should be the same in our society as prevention related to sports or hygiene. Raise awareness to encourage parents to restore regular weekday and weekend bedtime schedules. “You should also stop exposing yourself to screens two hours before bedtime,” advises Sabina Plankulen. Finally, during the daytime, you should do more outdoor sports during the daytime. “Eat, move” and … sleep.

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