Students Staff

08 September 2014

Time to sleep – why youngsters are pushing the bedtime boundaries

Colchester Campus

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Boys were twice as likely to get more than four hours of screen time than girls.

Think the early mornings are to blame for children struggling to get up for school after the long summer break? Well, think again, as it is probably more to do with when they go to bed.

For when it comes to late bed times, many English secondary school children are pushing the bedtime boundaries and are not getting enough sleep, according to new research from the University.

Published in the journal Pediatrics International, the study found that a third of girls and nearly half of boys at English secondary schools go to bed later than recommended, meaning they are not getting enough sleep on school nights. National guidelines recommend at least 9½ hours sleep for 11-year-olds and 8½ hours for 16-year-olds.

Led by Dr Gavin Sandercock, the research involved asking more than 1,000 11-15-year-old pupils from the East of England Healthy Hearts Study what time they went to bed and what time they got up. It found that four in ten pupils were sleep-deprived on school days.

“School hours mean children don’t have much of a choice about when they have to get up for school, so we looked closely at the times they went to bed to see if they were getting enough sleep. The findings were simply that many weren’t,” explained Dr Sandercock.

When they looked at factors which predicted later bedtimes in the children, the researchers found it was more common in boys than girls and became more common as children got older.

“We expected to see that older children slept less as they need less sleep anyway,” added Dr Sandercock, “but older boys went to bed particularly late on average.”

The study also found that boys with high levels of screen time (more than 4 hours per day spent on TVs, consoles and computers) were twice as likely to be staying up late. Fewer girls got this much screen time, but those who did were also more likely to go to bed late.

When the researchers looked at where the children lived they found that pupils from a school in a deprived area were twice as likely to be staying up later than average and boys were twice as likely to get more than four hours of screen time.

“We don’t know why children from poorer backgrounds spend more time in front of screens, but it seems that high screen time might be a factor in children going to bed later in some children, particularly boys,” said Dr Sandercock. “The number and availability of screen-based activities is only going to increase and parents need information about what safe levels are.”

The USA, Canada and Australia already have screen time recommendations for children of no more than two hours a day.

The researchers are calling on greater awareness of the implications of children not getting enough sleep so parents can work out when their children should go to bed.

Previous research has also shown that putting a screen, particularly a TV, in a child’s bedroom is one of the worst things parents can do as it offers a distraction from sleep, reduces parental control of children viewing and gives access to post-watershed content and advertising day and night.

The study suggests that parents need guidelines around switch off and lights out time and a whole new set of guidelines to deal with children’s use of smartphones and tablets.


Note to editors
For more information or to interview Dr Gavin Sandercock please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or email

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