Education Quandary: Our children, aged 11 and 15, don't go to sleep until late and seem unfit for school in the morning

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

A number of readers responded curtly to this, suggesting these parents need to take charge and tell their children when to go to sleep, but it isn't that easy. These sound like responsible parents. They send their children to bed at a reasonable time, and don't let them have televisions in their rooms. They don't say whether they also ask that mobile phones be left outside the bedrooms – and if they don't do this, then they should. But even without technological distractions, many of today's children have trouble sleeping. Their brains are jumping from having been exposed to so much screen-time during the day, and they often haven't had sufficient exercise to tire them out and make them want to sleep.

Yet we all need enough good sleep to function properly, and it isn't just our brains that are affected by the lack of it. Researchers now believe that heart problems, obesity, stress levels and digestive problems could also be linked to a disruption in hormonal cycles caused by sleep starvation. And young people, who are still growing, need much more sleep than adults.

These parents should see that their children get plenty of fresh air and exercise, eat a healthy diet, and always have some time to wind down before bed.

They should make sure their children's bedrooms are dark and well-ventilated, and they should talk to them about the importance of sleep and what happens when we don't get enough of it.

Readers' advice

I would say most of the pupils in my school are short of sleep, boys especially. They spend the morning waking up, revive for lunch, then pass the afternoon fighting sleep. Mondays are really bad and you can write Monday mornings off as learning time. In fact, school, in general, often seems wasted on them because they live in such a fog.

No matter how much you try to make a lesson interesting, there is always someone yawning at the back. (With no attempt to cover it up.) The school has sent notes to parents but it makes no difference. We don't think that anyone at home tells them when to go to sleep, and that they think that feeling half-asleep is normal. At least they are safely shut up in the classroom. I worry about what will happen when they are outside on the road, driving cars in this state.

Helen Tuck, Kent

This might be happening because it's the beginning of the school year. My children have always had trouble sleeping at this time. They get excited by things being new and different, and spend too long on homework projects trying to make a good impression.

Everything soon goes back to normal, although this still means that they have to be prised from their beds in the morning. This is just what children of this age are like.

Glynis Evans, Cardiff

When did teenage boys go to their bedrooms to sleep?

Jack Avery, London SE10

Next Week's Quandary

I am worried about reports in the newspapers saying that teaching assistants hamper children's progress. My eight-year-old daughter talks a lot about the teaching assistant in her class, and how she helps her with her maths, which is not our daughter's strong point. Should we speak to the school?

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