Healthy Routines Start With Sleep

HSE Media Release: 20 August 2020

New research highlights the impact of COVID-19 on children’s sleep routine

  •  Since the beginning of COVID-19, 43% of children are going to bed later, 44% are waking later each morning
  •  As a result of children experiencing changes in their sleep routine during COVID-19, 49% are eating more unhealthy snacks or treats, 54% are less active and 67% are engaging in more screen time
  •  60% of parents have expressed concern about getting their children back into a routine for school

19 August 2020: With school and a return to routine for families around the corner, safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland are encouraging parents to get bedtime back on track as the key to starting their children on the way to a healthier life for their return to school. 

New research carried out by safefood uncovered that since the beginning of COVID-19 43% of children are going to bed later and 44% are waking later each morning.

As a direct result of children experiencing changes in their sleep routine:

  • 49% are eating more unhealthy snacks or treats,
  • 54% are less active
  • 67% are engaging in more screen time, all of which can lead to childhood obesity.

Following an extensive period of time at home due to COVID-19 and with a gradual return to offices and school, now more than ever there is a need for families to start putting a healthier routine back into daily life. Many families have lost a sense of routine since the start of COVID-19 and are looking for ways to restore it.  The research from safefood has also revealed that 60% of parents expressed concern about getting their children back into a routine for school.

The research confirmed that parents have been finding a range of behaviours challenging to manage while children have been out of school, reporting difficulties in managing habits such as screen usage (55%), eating unhealthy treats and snacks (54%), getting regular exercise and activity (47%) and having a good sleep routine (52%).

In a focus group carried out as part of the START campaign, parents told safefood that getting the sleep routine right was the key to improving all the other unhealthy behaviours, inspiring the Healthy Routines Start with Sleep campaign from START.

Sleep is the cornerstone to health and wellbeing and its impact on a healthy lifestyle cannot be underestimated. We know that poor sleep routines are associated with sedentary behaviour and research has shown that a lack of sleep is associated with increased overweight and obesity, especially in younger age groups.[i] Insufficient sleep duration is thought to increase appetite, the desirability of unhealthy foods and lower physical activity.

As part of the campaign to help get bedtime back on track, Dr Colman Noctor, Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist commented:

“A fundamental role of childhood is building regulation in all aspects of life with sleep being the cornerstone of this regulation process.  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 sleep is achieved, there will be negative knock-on effects across all other aspects of a child’s life. Sleep also has a significant impact on cognitive function, so concentration, memory and focus are also compromised with insufficient sleep.”

Commenting on ‘Healthy Routines Start With Sleep’, Dr Marian O’Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition, safefood said

"Research shows that not getting enough sleep impacts on children’s health in many ways including increased risk of excess body weight. Sleep influences appetite hormones and being up for longer means there are more opportunities to eat, which can impact on their weight. Many parents have told us that they have found sleep, snacking, managing treat foods and other healthy behaviours difficult over recent months. A good sleep routine is the key to unlocking these challenges.” 

Sarah O’Brien, HSE National Lead, Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme stated:

“Every year, getting back into a regular bedtime routine with children is something all parents have to tackle after the summer holidays. With COVID-19, we have all faced huge extra challenges this year. We would encourage parents to know the power of a good sleep routine, and how it can improve their child’s health and wellbeing. We know it’s not easy to tackle and will take time and effort to get it right. We have really good advice and support available at”

Kate O’ Flaherty, Head of Healthy Ireland added “we know that having a regular bedtime routine for children can be difficult, especially when factoring in the unprecedented times we have been living in more recently.  Research has found establishing a bedtime routine is associated with better sleep for parents, a more active and healthier lifestyle and reduced family stress, a win-win for the whole family.”

To help get bedtime back on track, Dr Colman Noctor offers the following sleep advice to parents:

  • ·Consistent bedtimes are at the heart of the routine to provide regularity and predictability that over time will help a child to self-regulate
  •  Reduce screen time and sugary foods and drinks in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  •  Encourage physical activity and fruit and vegetables during the day.
  •  Encourage relaxation skills and wind down activities.
  •  Value sleep time within the family culture
Last updated on: 19 / 08 / 2020