The Importance of Sleep for Children’s Health and Education in Spain

By Edwin


In contemporary Spanish society, the issue of children’s sleep has become a topic of increasing concern among parents and healthcare professionals. Luciana, a mother of two children aged 10 and 6, voices her struggle with getting her children to bed at night and waking them up in the morning. She is not alone in her experience; Lara, another mother, shares her observations of her fourth-grade daughter dozing off during the short 15-minute car ride to school, reflecting a pervasive issue with inadequate sleep among Spanish children.

The Decline of Children’s Sleep in Spain

Recent data suggests a concerning trend: between 2006 and 2016, Spanish children aged 4 to 14 reportedly lost an average of 27 minutes of sleep per night, decreasing from 9.19 hours to 8.52 hours. Gonzalo Pin, coordinator of the Sleep and Chronobiology group of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP), underscores this significant decline, indicating that approximately 52% of primary school children attend class with chronic sleep deficits. These figures align with recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation of the United States, which advocates for 10 to 13 hours of sleep for children aged 3 to 5, and 9 to 12 hours for primary school students (aged 6-12).

Contributing Factors to Sleep Deprivation

Óscar Sans, coordinator of the Pediatric group at the Spanish Society of Sleep, identifies several contributing factors to this sleep deprivation epidemic. Cultural, social, and labor schedules in Spain tend to be late, leading to delayed bedtimes. Additionally, the widespread use of screens at increasingly younger ages and the lack of consistent sleep habits further exacerbate the issue. Sans emphasizes the misconception that 8 or 9 hours of sleep suffice for children, disregarding the recommended ranges.

Pin adds another dimension to the discussion: the poverty of time, particularly affecting women and children. When time is scarce, sleep often gets sacrificed. Pin argues that children’s schedules, heavily dictated by school and extracurricular activities, hinder their ability to learn time management, including prioritizing rest. This, in turn, worsens sleep quality and perpetuates a cycle of sleep deprivation.

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

The ramifications of chronic sleep deprivation among children extend beyond mere tiredness. Academic performance suffers as sleep is crucial for memory consolidation and learning. Moreover, sleep-deprived children struggle to maintain focus in class and exhibit behavioral issues, including impulsivity. Sans warns against trivializing these consequences, as they encompass cognitive, behavioral, and even metabolic implications.

Pin echoes these concerns, noting short-term symptoms such as irritability and mood swings, akin to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Long-term repercussions include obesity, diabetes, learning disorders, and mental health issues. Pin emphasizes the importance of safeguarding children’s sleep for their future well-being.

Recognizing the Importance of Sleep

Despite the critical role of sleep in overall health, societal attitudes towards sleep remain inadequate. Pin suggests that if families prioritize sleep as they do nutrition, significant progress could be made in addressing this issue. Sans emphasizes the need for establishing consistent sleep routines, ensuring a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night for children.

Strategies for Improvement

Sans recommends implementing evening routines to facilitate a natural transition to sleep, including avoiding stimulating activities and reducing screen time after 7 p.m. Pin advocates for integrating sleep education into school curricula, teaching children about the importance of sleep from a young age. He also calls for schools to adjust their schedules based on chronobiological knowledge, scheduling important subjects during peak learning times.

In conclusion, addressing the sleep deprivation epidemic among Spanish children requires a multifaceted approach involving parents, educators, and policymakers. By recognizing the significance of sleep, implementing consistent routines, and prioritizing sleep education, society can better support children’s health, well-being, and educational success.