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Sleep, glorious sleep – Headmaster’s Blog – Tuesday 15th November 2016

November 15, 2016
Ballard School New Milton Sleep blog

Sleep, glorious sleep – are our children getting it?

This Headmaster’s Blog was written on Saturday 12th November – Ed.

I am writing this blog having had less sleep than I would like! I was up and off on a train at 5.00am yesterday and then had a late night (partly my fault) the same day at a dinner and awards’ ceremony. Up early this morning for breakfast and another train and then a much-delayed journey (‘leaves on the line’) has left me at my great age wishing I was home in bed!


It was thus all the more interesting to attend a session at the Independent Schools’ Association (ISA) conference yesterday led by the writer, researcher and speaker, Sue Palmer, on the topic ‘Detoxing childhood’. Sue spoke about how the modern world is damaging our children. This could easily have been a focus on ‘the good old days’ (and Sue did point out that whilst things may have been simpler before the 1980s, our grandparents and many of our parents had to put up with world wars when they were children – also very damaging to childhood). She focused on three ways in which things have changed for our young people since the 1980s: firstly, the speed of technological progress has seen digital technology double in speed and complexity every two years (‘Moore’s Law’); secondly, the rise of the global consumer economy (with ‘pester power’ from children) and, thirdly, substantial changes in gender roles (with ‘parent’ having been a respectable noun becoming ‘parenting’ – something you ‘do’ to children)!

There is a lot I could write about Sue Palmer’s talk as a whole (and perhaps I will in time), but it was what she said about the importance of sleep which caught my attention. Just this week I had been talking with a parent of children in our Pre-Prep who was asking advice about establishing good routines in the evening at home – and being somewhat despairing as she reflected on many negative changes since her own childhood years.

Sleep is vital to every aspect of child development but 21st century children are, on average, getting about one and a half hours less sleep per night than doctors recommend. For example, pre-schoolers should have 11 to 13 hours’ sleep a day whilst primary schoolchildren should have 10 to 11 hours daily. If children don’t get enough sleep their learning suffers as they lose focus and concentration and the long-term memory (which kicks in as we sleep) has less time to act.

Sue Palmer writes:

A key reason behind children’s sleeping problems today is our screen-based lifestyle: fast-moving screen-based entertainment before bedtime can over stimulate the brain. The blue light from screens disrupts sleep patterns and the closer the screen to the face, the worse the effect, and so hand-held devices are particularly damaging’.

Sue’s advice for a good night’s sleep (and these don’t only apply to children, I suggest) include a cool, darkened room, a regular bedtime and a consistent, comforting routine (including bedtime stories), a quiet wind-down to sleep with no electronic entertainment and this means no technology in the bedroom. Try the ‘technology basket’ in the hallway: no devices pass this point on the way to bed (and I for one have found this helpful for my own sleep pattern). What Sue Palmer suggests is hardly ‘rocket science’, and clearly shouldn’t be! It struck me as good, old, common sense which requires self-discipline and authoritative (not authoritarian) and caring parenting. It’s worth a ‘go’ – and persevering – if we want our children to enjoy all the benefits that we yearn for in a good night’s sleep and no doubt we shall benefit, too!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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Ballard School is a non-selective, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire (on the Dorset/Hampshire border), providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here

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