Children should be taught about the importance of a good night's sleep as part of the national curriculum, health campaigners say.
Sleep experts say it is just as important as a healthy diet and exercise in ensuring children get the best out of their schooling. They add that children would be less likely to nod off during lessons.
Lack of sleep, they argue, can lead to an inability to concentrate in lessons – and, of course, falling asleep in the classroom instead of in bed at home. It can also make children irritable, causing behavioural problems.
A survey of more than 2,000 parents by the Sleep Council published today reveals that nearly half did not realise that their children needed 12 hours' sleep a night at the age of three. And fewer than four out of 10 were aware that teenagers need between eight and nine hours' sleep a night.
As a result of the survey, a petition has been launched on the Downing Street website calling for sleep education to become part of the national curriculum.
Chris Idzikowski, of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, said: "Our education system must take this subject on board in a serious and structured way.
"We teach children about nutrition and ensure regular exercise is part of their weekly activities but the third critical ingredient of a healthy lifestyle – sleep – is barely touched upon."
The survey showed two-thirds of parents (67 per cent) admitted to worrying about the amount or quantity of sleep their children got and 96 per cent agreed lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is damaging to the health and wellbeing of children.
It also showed that 80 per cent of parents interviewed recognised how important sleep was for a child to do well at school.
Regular bedtimes followed by a comfortable bed were said to be the most important factors in getting a good night's sleep. Other factors were a dark room, no gadgets, exercise and a nutritious diet.
Nick Stanley, an independent sleep consultant, said: "Sleep is a basic and fundamental human requirement and is vitally important for good physical, mental and emotional health.
"It's crucial for memory, learning and growth which means it is necessary for children to get enough sleep."
The Sleep Council points out there is no mention of the word "sleep" in national curriculum guidelines while there are several mentions of the necessity to ensure a healthy diet and that children should take exercise.
Jessica Alexander, its spokeswoman, said: "The lack of education about sleep and the factors critical to achieving the necessary quantity and quality must be addressed in schools as well as home if today's children are to take the subject seriously."
Taking the subject seriously and instilling healthy sleeping habits into children could help a school improve its exam and test score results.
Meanwhile new research out today from the Independent Schools Council shows the average cost of state education is more than £8,000 a year – rather than the £6,000 figure cited by the Departmental for Children, Schools and Families. The ISC argues the increased cost underlines the importance of its sector in saving the state the cost of educating its pupils.