All of 13, Akaash often gets just three to four hours of sleep every night. His evenings are all about balancing homework, tuition and language classes with outdoor games, television, spending time on the computer and networking online. It’s often 1 am when he crashes, but his alarm wakes him up at 4 am — to wrap up an unfinished computer game before going to school.
It’s a bad habit and many are starting early. Not just the young and restless, even children as young as five are skipping sleep at night. The age group of five to 15 years in particular, is finding it difficult to fit in all their daily activities within the waking hours. This is affecting sleep patterns and leading to problems.
Competition and peer pressure has doubled for this age group, points out Dr Amit Sen, senior consultant psychiatrist for children and adolescents, at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute in New Delhi. “There’s more pressure for children now to follow urban trends and be performance driven, at an early age. And parents leading a hectic lifestyle also contributes to a child’s sleep pattern,” he says.
Ideally, a child between five and 15 needs at least seven to eight hours of sleep. Yet, more and more children are resorting to stimulants like coffee, nicotine, chocolate with strong caffeine, and soft drinks to ward off sleep. Often, these can lead to addictions.
A case in example is Akaash’s friend, Vinay. He, too, sleeps as little as possible. Addicted to cigarettes, coffee and alcohol, Vinay is also constantly chatting on the cellphone. All this is now taking its toll — Vinay has scored poorly in his class VII exams. But he is unrepentant. “I don’t find enough time to do all things I have to do. Besides, all my friends stay up late,” he defends himself.
“Several children suffer from Obstruct Sleep Apnoea these days,” says Dr Avdesh Bansal, senior consultant at the department of respiratory and sleep medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. “It’s a result of children binging on junk food, which leads to obesity. This in turn affects sleep. Sitting in front of a computer or TV screen for too long is another reason,” he says.
Jitendra Nagpal, senior psychiatrist at VIMHANS, another New Delhi hospital, says: “School and parenting must play important roles to control the problem. We have had several serious cases coming to us recently, where high levels of distractions are keeping children from sleeping their regular required hours.”
(Some names have been changed to protect identity.)