Dr. Anna Weighall

Dr. Anna Weighall, cognitive developmental psychologist, explains the importance of sleep and describes how the use of tech can impact upon it.

My name is Dr. Anna Weighall. My profession is developmental psychology and the main focus of my research with Silentnight is the relationships between sleep, health and wellbeing in children and adults. 

In October 2017 I led a large study with parents with children aged between 6 and 11 years old with collaborators from  Leeds University and Silentnight about how lack of sleep affects the daily wellbeing and the academic development of British children and their parents. This was the first major study to characterise children’s sleeping habits in the UK, and we collected data from a survey with over 1000 parents from a representative sample. 

Our results showed that children who experience inadequate sleep are more likely to have problems paying attention in class, forgetting things and keeping up with school work. As a result, children may then end up missing school because they feel unwell. 

It is reported that children aged between six and 11 should be getting 10 hours of sleep each night, but our research showed that 36 per cent of primary school children often sleep for less than eight hours.

What was clear from the data is that many parents are not making sleep a priority for their children, or for themselves. Examining bedtime and waking times we can see that families are consistently going to bed late in the week, and children are regularly having later nights at weekends, disrupting their sleep patterns. 

Concentration and the ability to learn can be severely affected by lack of sleep. By establishing a regular sleep routine the whole family will sleep better, perform better at school and work, and be happier and healthier as a result.

So what are the causes of lack of sleep? 

The research found that, alongside poor routine, technology is a key contributing factor to lack of sleep amongst children from the age of 6. 

The findings show that children who have smartphones or tablets in the bedroom sleep less than those who don’t - up to an hour of sleep a night could be lost compared to families that keep bedrooms a tech-free zone.

This sleep loss trend increases as children get older, with eleven year olds losing the most sleep because of tech.

Research shows that the blue light from screens makes you feel more active and keeps you awake, so it’s easy for our brains to be tricked by our phones into thinking it’s not time for bed - meaning children and adults alike can find themselves up a lot later than they intended. 

So how can we change this? 

RSPH have launched Scroll Free September - the world’s first large-scale social media-free month, sponsored by Silentnight. 

Taking part in Scroll free September could help you build a healthier, more balanced relationship with social media in the future and improve your sleep routines for a better nights sleep.

But it doesn’t mean you have to take the whole month off. The RSPH have come up with 5 different plans to fit your scroll free journey:

  • Cold turkey - Giving up social media altogether for the whole 30 days 
  • Social butterfly - Ignoring social media at social events 
  • Night owl - Turning off social every night from 6pm 
  • Busy bee - Taking a break from personal social accounts at work 
  • Sleeping dog - Giving up social media in the bedroom 

Visit the Scroll Free September website to find out more.