| 10.9°C Belfast

Kids' sleeping, eating and exercise habits upset by pandemic: survey


Advice: Dr Colman Noctor

Advice: Dr Colman Noctor

Advice: Dr Colman Noctor

More than two-thirds of parents in Northern Ireland have struggled to manage their children's sleeping habits during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The figures were revealed through a study by safefood, which highlights food safety and nutrition across Ireland.

The research found that 68% of parents admitted struggling to manage their children's sleeping habits, with 52% of youngsters going to bed later at night and 43% waking later in the morning.

It was also revealed that over half of children (59%) here have been eating more unhealthy treats, getting less exercise (59%) and engaging in more screen time (72%).

Two-thirds (65%) of parents also said it had been a challenge to control their offspring's consumption of treats.

Another 62% said it was difficult to get them to exercise regularly, and it was a constant battle to manage screen time.

In addition, the study showed that almost three-quarters of parents (71%) were concerned about getting their children back into a healthy routine for the reopening of schools.

Grace Prigent from Lisburn said it had been a "nightmare" trying to get her son Cody (10) to stick to a sleep routine during the pandemic and was worried it could affect him when he starts P7 at St Aloysius Primary School next week.

"There are times when Cody would still be awake at 1am using his PS4, phone and iPad," she explained.

"It was worse at the start of lockdown in March because he was just constantly on gadgets.

"It has eased slightly because with the easing of restrictions he has been able to get out to play with his friends, so he has had a bit of fresh air, but his sleep pattern is still up the left."

Reflecting on Cody's return to the classroom, she added that homeschooling had proved incredibly difficult.

"He fought with me as he always did when we were doing his homework," she said.

"He is much better behaved in school because he's frightened of the teacher and he was doing really well.

"He benefited from that routine, but me trying to homeschool him didn't work."

Safefood's research coincides with the latest phase of START, a five-year public health awareness campaign by it, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.

The initiative is encouraging parents to get bedtime back on track as the key to starting their children on the way to a healthier lifestyle for their return to school.

Child and adolescent psychoanalytical psychotherapist Dr Colman Noctor advised that consistent bedtimes and the reduction of screen time and sugary food and drinks in the run-up to bedtime can help regulate sleeping patterns. And he said that encouraging relaxation skills and physical activity, as well as a family culture of valuing sleep time, will also benefit.

"A fundamental role of childhood is building regulation in all aspects of life, with sleep being the cornerstone of this regulation process," said Dr Noctor.

"The key to this is regularity and consistency, with consistent sleep patterns assisting your child to regulate all other aspects of their lives including appetite, energy, emotions and physical activity. Sleep should be seen as a recharging process whereby if not enough is achieved, there will be negative knock-on effects across all other aspects of a child's life."

Belfast Telegraph