Get rid of the smartphones if you want a good night’s sleep

Thing of the past? A mum reads her daughter a comforting bedtime story. These days, so many of our c

Thing of the past? A mum reads her daughter a comforting bedtime story. These days, so many of our children are left to entertain themselves through tablets and smartphones. Picture: PA/Thinkstock - Credit: PA

Children find it hard to get to sleep nowadays, and we only have ourselves to blame.

No mobile signal? Rubbish broadband? Lucky you!

Really, it's not all bad news – at least your children might get a decent night's sleep.

Many children don't. In the last ten years there's been a surge in children sleeping so badly that they're having to resort to drugs to get them through the night.

Amazingly, this surge seems to coincide with the use of smartphones, tablets and TVs in bedrooms. Well, who'd have thought it?

Toddlers are given a tablet to entertain them at bedtime. Many children not much older have their own smartphones which links them up to just about anyone and everything in the world.

And you thought Hansel and Gretel was scary…

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Forget the bedtime story, chances are your child's trying to sleep age a cocktail of Snapchat, Facebook, online bullying and possibly some porn thrown in. No wonder their brains are buzzing. It's amazing they're not fried.

But turn off a phone? You might as well ask a teen to chop off their hand.

Children who don't sleep miss out on school work - difficult to absorb much when you're snoozing – and are more likely to get fat. Just like a hangover, lack of sleep makes you crave fatty, sweet foods and anything remotely healthy fills you with revulsion.

Sleepless children are also often stroppy, sulky and a pain to live with, even before they're teenagers. And turn their parents into zombies.

I had one child who never slept in the daytime and another who never slept at night. I still have the bags under my eyes to prove it.

But we persevered. Bathtime, story time, or read as long as they liked as long as they stayed in bed. It worked.

It usually does. When sleep clinics suggest that parents kept their children to a regular routine, ban any form of screen for at least an hour before bedtime and cut down on the fizzy drinks, 92% of families say the problem's solved within weeks, if not days.

You might call it plain common sense. But we didn't grow up in houses brimming over with smartphones, tablets and televisions.

Good grief – until 1956 there was no television at all between 6pm and 7pm, just a blank screen - 'the toddlers' truce' - so parents could put their children to bed. How quaint is that? But I bet children slept better then. And I wonder how many toddlers go to bed at six o'clock these days…

Because I was the worst mother in the world my children didn't even have a TV in their rooms – until one of them at 13 years old staggered off the bus clutching a second-hand set he'd bought with the proceeds of his paper round. I reckoned he'd earned the right to a few late-night movies. Anyway, as teenagers he and his brother had already moved into a different time zone, where we would see them only occasionally, usually by the fridge.

It's not just children. Sleeplessness is rife among all ages. A report last month said many adults are driven to drink at bedtime as it claims it helps them sleep. Whatever happened to cocoa? But again, it's often the phone or the laptop or Netflix that's keeping us awake. And lack of exercise.

A last tip for the sleepless - a friend who'd been plagued for years by insomnia and tried just about everything, looked after her sister's dog for a month. Walking the dog every morning and afternoon gave her plenty of exercise but she reckoned the real secret was the very last walk, just twenty minutes around the green before bedtime. Fresh air and exercise, and she was out like a light.

So – a screen-free routine and no fizzy drinks. And if all else fails, get a dog.