Why the UK's parents are on the verge of a sleep crisis

Lack of sleep is having a huge impact on families’ lives [Photo: Getty]

Ask any mum or dad what their biggest struggle has been since entering parenthood and you can bet a Bugaboo Bee they’ll say sleep.

Lack of sleep is something you assume goes hand in hand with having a baby. The ‘stock up on sleep now’ jokes literally start the minute you announce your pregnancy, and funny Instagram posts urging followers to ‘send coffee’ are common practice among parenting bloggers.

But while many parents try to make light of the issue, new research has revealed serious sleep issues are having a real effect on UK families by impacting on everything from their mental health to their relationships.

According to new research from Netmums 40% of children and young people in the UK are currently affected by sleep issues. This figure rises to 80% for children with special educational needs and disabilities

Sleep deprivation in children can lead to lowering of the immune system, behavioural issues and under achievement in education, and in adults lack of sleep can have very real effects on emotional and physical wellbeing – three quarters of those parents polled agreeing that sleep deprivation impacts on their mental health.

But despite sleep deprivation being a major concern, the study of more than 2,500 Netmums users found that only 11% of parents agree there is enough support for parents of children with sleep issues and only a quarter of parents (26%) have ever sought expert help from a healthcare professional (such as GP or Health Visitor) about their child’s sleep. (Sidebar – 13% of parents didn’t even realise professional help was available!)

A new survey has revealed sleep deprivation is having a huge impact on parents [Photo: Getty]

Whether it’s having to soothe a fussy baby or having little ones creep into your bed, the Netmums study found that a whopping 83% of parents have had sleep issues with at least one child, and nearly a quarter (24%) said they were unhappy with the amount of sleep their child/children get.

Over half (55%) of parents said they are unhappy with the amount of sleep they get each night and 56% confessed their child/children wake at least once or multiple times during the night.

And all this waking is having a huge impact the next day. When asked what they noticed if their child has a poor night’s sleep, just over a quarter (26%) admitted they have difficulty concentrating during the day, 61% said their behaviour becomes more challenging, 54% said their mood is negatively affected, and 22% said they can become hyperactive.

And when asked how problems with their child’s sleep impacts on the family, 26% said it disturbs their siblings, 72% admitted they felt sleep deprived and exhausted, 35% said they felt depressed and their mental health is affected, 21% said it affects their work, and 30% felt it affects their appearance.

Parents’ relationships are taking a sleep deprived hit too with 27% of parents admitting sleep deprivation leads to them arguing more, 42% claiming they were less tolerant of each other and 29% admitting their sex life was affected.

Of those who have sought expert help, just 28% of parents felt well supported by health professionals on this issue, compared to the vast majority (72%) who did not. When seeking professional help, 39% said they had been given a book or leaflet to read, 13% had received a home visit, 9% had been advised to attend a workshop and 9% had tried therapy.

To bring the issue to the fore, Netmums and The Children’s Sleep Charity have joined forces to launch Sleep Week – a week-long campaign to raise awareness of the serious issue of sleep deprivation and a call for a better national understanding and support when it comes to the importance of sleep.

“We’ve ended up a nation suffering very serious ill effects of our children not sleeping,” Netmums’ Editor in Chief, Anne-Marie O’Leary explained. “We all know that young babies need to wake at night to feed, and expect things like illnesses and teething to take their toll, but beyond that parents need to know that things can be done and to get help with addressing their children’s sleep problems.”

“That its affecting families’ mental health and relationships and children aren’t able to concentrate at school isn’t ok.  Its time this issue was put firmly on the nation’s health agenda and we treat it as the problem it really is.”

Netmums want sleep deprivation to be taken more seriously [Photo: Getty]

As part of Sleep Week Netmums and The Children’s Sleep charity are calling for the government to implement three key measures that they believe could help transform the health of the UK’s families. These include; better national understanding of the importance of sleep, quality sleep support available to families and for sleep to be recognised as a vital component of mental health.

Speaking about the proposals Vicki Dawson, CEO and Founder of the Children’s Sleep Charity said: “Sleep issues are rarely given the attention they deserve. Poor sleep patterns impact on the whole family in terms of their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.”

“We will highlight this public health issue through the launch of our manifesto at Westminster and hope to promote better national understanding of the importance of sleep.  Quality sleep support for families is vital and also cost saving for society.  Sleep also needs to be recognised as a vital component of mental health and requires investment.”

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