Sleep disorders in children on rise due to social media

Claire Murphy

SCHOOLchildren are suffering from increasing numbers of sleep disorders because of an increase in social media, experts have claimed.

Behavioural problems, being hyperactive or dozing off in school or even incidents of ADHD could be a knock-on effect of a severe lack of sleep.

Teachers and parents need to keep their eyes open for problems in children, Dr Elaine Purcell, consultant in sleep disorders medicine at the Mater Private Hospital, said.

Dr Purcell has noticed that more young people who are having problems concentrating during the day are attending her clinic.

"It's a combination of things," she said. "First, there is just more recognition of sleep disorders. Sleep apnea has always been there, but years ago the answer was to take the tonsils out.

"In Ireland, there is an under-diagnosing of clinical sleep disorders. We are definitely seeing more cases of narcolepsy.


"In young children, it is sometimes harder to identify, it is difficult to identify how much is normal to be napping in the afternoon."

Dr Purcell said that there were a variety of reasons why children and teenagers were not getting enough sleep.

"Some of the reasons we are seeing is that children are resisting going to bed or refusing to go to bed.

"If there is a chaotic family environment and no strict patterns in place, it makes it harder," she said.

"Teenagers are vulnerable. They are taking part in more socialising after school, they have more homework and extra sports activities, which are also eating into hours of sleep.

"Because of the changes teenagers are going through, they need more sleep.

"Then there are social media, smartphones, being on phone late of night -- all of this is competing with sleep."

Dr Purcell said there were key areas that adults should be able to identify in children and teens in their care.

"The signs to look out for are tiredness, yawning during the day, falling asleep at inappropriate times," she said.

"The symptoms can be subtler, such as not being able to focus, spacing out, zoning out or daydreaming."

Dr Purcell said that they tried to avoid prescribing medications, but added: "Sometimes medication is needed."