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- Sleeping pill prescriptions for under-16s nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021
- Experts believe that being at home in times of lockdown and anxiety may have contributed to this
- Increased evening screen use was also flagged as a problem
The lockdown has led to a record number of children being prescribed sleeping pills as they struggle to deal with the disorder.
Figures revealed by The Mail on Sunday showed that prescriptions for sleeping pills for under-16s in England nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021, with particularly big jumps after the pandemic began.
In 2021, the latest year for which statistics are available, 643,998 prescriptions for “hypnotics” were issued to those under 16 – one for every 17 children.
Before the pandemic, sleep-inducing drug prescriptions for children were rising at a rate of about 50,000 a year.
Prescriptions for sleeping pills for under-16s in England nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021
But from 2020 onwards, that has accelerated to an annual rise of close to 80,000.
Medical guidelines say that these types of medications should not usually be prescribed to children unless they are for short-term treatment of night terrors or sleepwalking.
Experts believe a toxic combination of the disruption to children’s education due to lockdown, the resulting lack of exercise from being locked at home and worry about not seeing friends and the safety of family members has made sleeping more difficult.
Lately, their family’s financial concerns may be playing on their minds as well.
Chris Martin, chief executive of British youth charity The Mix, said: “The continued rise in the use of sleeping pills by young people is deeply worrying. It is essential that they get the rest they need in order to cope.
“We recommend that young people try to create healthy sleep habits rather than resorting to prescription medication – avoid screens before bed, exercise regularly and seek support if they feel overwhelmed.”
Experts believe that a toxic combination of disruption to children’s education due to lockdown has contributed to the sleeping difficulties experienced over the time period.
He said young people faced “multiple challenges” with the “anxiety and stress of the cost of living crisis” increasingly mentioned by those calling her helpline.
The revelation comes as separate statistics show hundreds of children and adolescents in England are being hospitalized for sleep disorders, with the number of admissions for conditions such as insomnia nearly doubling in recent years.
A 2021 study review, published in Sleep Science, noted: “Physical activity is considered an effective, non-drug approach to improving sleep… In this context, the increase in physical inactivity among children and adolescents is concerning.”
Another problem is the increase in screen time among children and teens, especially in the evening.
An article in the Journal of Clinics of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of North America warns: “In a recent literature review of studies looking at the relationship between screen media use and sleep, 90 percent of the included studies found an association between screen media use and a delayed bedtime.” and/or lack of total sleep time.