A Murdoch Children's Research Institute study of students from 22 Australian schools has found that 40% had sleep problems. Research has previously shown that sleep deprivation or deficits have significant negative effects on learning outcomes and mental health.
Of additional concern is that sleep problems were developing early with 20% of primary school students getting a daily caffeine dose from chocolate or soft drinks.
Dietitian Lisa Renn was astounded to hear parents were giving their five-year-olds a daily jolt of caffeine via cola, sports and energy drinks and even chocolate.
"Some parents have lost perspective. It is lazy and neglectful parenting," she said.
"There are plenty of quick and nutritious snacks. Parents need to be firm and say no."
Parents may be surprised to learn that two cans of cola can contain 95mg of caffeine and chocolate bars provide between 20 and 60mg of caffeine. In addition to these dietary problems, sleep problems were also linked to kids consuming more than two of TV viewing a day.
Parenting Research Centre executive officer Warren Cann said some parents "would not think to make a link between what kids are drinking and watching, and their behaviour and sleep patterns".
"Pester power can be a factor. When kids really want something some parents don't know how to say no," he said.
"If you have it in the house, make sure you link it to a special occasion such as the one night a week you get takeaway so kids learn it is for some times and not others."
Mr Cann gave additional tips on handling children who pestered for treats until their parents gave in. He acknowledged it could be hard to change their child's behavior but with the consequences for their mental health and education so severe, parents had to show some tough love and teach the child to respect the word âno'. Parents should explain that caffeine containing treats were âsometimes' foods; not for everyday consumption. Likewise watching TV is a treat activity, it shouldn't be an every night occurrence for the young, despite the modern temptation to use the television as a free babysitter. The most important tip from Cann was for parents to never relent once they'd said no; otherwise the child learns that continued pestering can have positive outcomes.
Principals' Association Victorian president Gabrielle Leigh said kids being tired at school was a major problem.
"Children might not feel like breakfast if they are still hyped up, which makes them tired and makes it hard to concentrate," she said.
The study is to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Child And Pediatric Health.