Despite restricting tablet and phone use, Clair Lyons’ son has long had trouble getting to sleep

Teenage boy using a digital tablet at night
 Lyons puts the rise in sleep problems among the young down to use of technology at bedtime. Pictured posed by model. Photograph: Phanie/Alamy

For Clair Lyons, getting her son to sleep – and stopping him from waking up at the crack of dawn – has never been easy. “Even as a baby he did not need much sleep, and as a new parent that was completely draining. He has always been an early riser,” she says.

Lyons has tried everything over the years to give the now 17-year-old a good night’s rest. “We have tried massage with him, various pillow sprays, lavender oils. I have always restricted his iPad and TV use and even now as a teenager I make sure his phone is out of the bedroom and he does not have use of it – or his iPad – at least for an hour before going to bed,” Lyons says, adding that she has instilled a strict bedtime routine with all three of her children.

The family is not alone in their quest for better sleep. Thousands of children and teenagers in England are visiting hospital for sleep disorders, with admissions for conditions such as insomnia almost doubling in seven years. Data from NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system in England, shows that admissions with a primary diagnosis of sleep disorder among those aged under 16 has risen from 6,549 in 2012-13 to 11,313 last year.

And help is not always easy to get on the NHS because of high demand and limited capacity.

“It’s hard to see a GP and get an appointment when you are ill, let alone with sleep problems. Lots don’t have a clue and there is not enough done on sleep … It’s not that they don’t take it seriously but a GP would just not be able to give sound advice in helping, so we have ploughed on ourselves,” Lyons says.

She isn’t sure why her son has sleep problems but says he finds it hard to relax at the end of the day. “He finds it hard when he gets into bed. He finds it hard to calm down. Even as a child he would fidget a lot and then fall asleep.”

Lyons says poor sleep has affected her son in a number of ways, from making him not want to attend friends’ sleepovers to leaving him feeling abnormal and worried during exam periods.

Lyons puts the rise in sleep problems among children and teenagers down to social media and phone use at bedtime. “It’s amazing how many of my children’s school friends are allowed to play on their phones all night. Lots of parents are not strict with usage of games and iPads and phones.”

She adds: “I also work at a sleep clinic and speak to a lot of parents who say their child insists on having their phone at night. They watch it and are getting four hours’ sleep and then cannot get up for school in the morning.”

The only thing Lyons says has helped with her own son is a new blanket which she says is like being in a ball of cotton wool. “He has just started an apprenticeship and needs to keep focused so he can learn. Now he sleeps in until 7am with that [his new blanket], so it’s not as if I cannot get him out of bed but it’s definitely more comforting for him and has improved slightly.”

Credit: The Guardian