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Thousands of children and teenagers in England are being admitted to hospital for sleep disorders, with admissions for conditions such as insomnia almost doubling in seven years.
Experts have described the situation as a hidden public health problem, putting it down to rising obesity levels, excessive use of social media before bedtime and a mental health crisis engulfing young people.
The Guardian analyzed data from NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system in England, which revealed that hospital admissions for under-16s with a primary diagnosis of sleep disorder rose from 6,549 in 2012-13 to 9,451 in 2017-18 and 11,313 in 2018-19.
By comparison, sleep disorder admissions for all ages rose only slightly between 2012-13 and 2018-19, from 29,511 to 30,098.
Vicki Dawson, the founder of the NHS Doncaster-funded Children’s Sleep Charity, the only free specialist service that provides support to families for children’s sleep, said the organization had been inundated with requests from families seeking help.
“We find it hard to meet the demand due to our very limited resources,” she said. “The rise will be linked to a number of factors, firstly, sleep-disordered breathing issues in children which is linked to obesity. It is commonly recognized that there is a problem around childhood obesity in the UK. What isn’t recognized is that poor sleep quality can be a driver for it, impacting on the release of hormones that manage appetite and hunger.”
Dawson said another area where they were seeing a significant rise was in children’s mental health issues “and again there is a strong link between anxiety and sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, sleep is not on the public health agenda despite the huge impact it has on all areas of wellbeing, and when it goes wrong there aren’t specialist services for families to access.”