The times they are a-changing… at a faster tempo than ever before!

A few days ago I was surfing radio channels and I came across a discussion between Andrew Marr and the author Yuval Noah Harari on the BBC Radio Four programme “Start the Week”.    Harari is an historian;  the author of the bestselling book “Sapiens”.  He has a new book out entitled “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” and so hence his appearance.

I crashed into the discussion as Harari was describing the risks of AI and bio engineering – perhaps allowing some humans to develop more powerful brains … and the continuation of the trend for us to allow algorithms to make more of our choices:– who we date, what we buy, what we watch… or maybe who we will vote for?   Harari said he was not setting out a prophecy but he was highlighting the possible dangers of such developments. He suggested that we should consider choosing our governments based on their competence to address such issues. Interesting.

What really peaked my interest was Harari‘s belief that most of what we are teaching our kids will be irrelevant to them in their lives  (…I expect he accepts that numeracy and literacy are a given) – so Marr asked him what we should be teaching; to which he replied that our children are destined to navigate a world where things will keep on changing very quickly… much quicker than ever before…  and that they may well be required to reinvent themselves every decade.  To thrive in such a world he suggested that our children will need to develop “emotional intelligence” and “mental balance”.

There are quite a few ideas in that last paragraph.  Firstly, things really are changing faster than before.  My grandfather trained in a trade and worked for one employer until retirement.  yet I have already changed career a number of times.   If someone is hired on the line at Nissan today – then who’s to say how long that job will last… or even the factory… or even Nissan?  (There used to be a large Kodak factory in Hertfordshire… but Kodak is no more… nor Woolies, BHS or House of Fraser… Etc).  So the half-life of jobs, plants and companies must be reducing at a pace.

Second – “emotional intelligence” – our Generation Z children seem to be very low on transferable interpersonal skills.  One of Carina Sciences’ early ideas was to provide an app to improve the emotional intelligence of teenagers – maybe we should revive that project!

Thirdly – our children will need “mental balance”… mindfulness… an ability to take such change in their stride – …sounds like an essential attribute.  At Carina we have recently completed the “toolbox” for our REZL app – one of the tools is a tutorial and meditation to help people to deal with change in their lives – at work, at home or in relationships.  People are often slow to accept the inevitability of change and the impossibility of having things remain the same… they need to depersonalise the “change initiative” so that they can let go of anger and disillusionment – especially as skills, processes and infrastructure in which they have invested are set aside – and to keep in mind that the change does not mean that their efforts to date are not appreciated …it’s more that the future requires something different.  Lastly, change situations can also cause anxiety… “what will happen in the future?… to me?”.   So  in a world where our children are to face regular and disruptive change they will be well served by “mental balance” and a mindful approach.  If that is where we are heading we had better get ready!

Rise in sleep disorders in under-16s…  a  relationship with mental wellbeing.

This piece in The Guardian caught my eye: “Children’s lack of sleep is ‘hidden health crisis’  – NHS statistics for England show sleep disorder admissions for under-16s was almost 10,000 last year” (here).   The Guardian analysed NHS data, revealing that admissions with a primary diagnosis of sleep disorder among those aged 16 and under has risen from 6,520 in 2012-13 to 9,429 last year.

So – what is causing this increase in children presenting with sleep problems?

“Sleep issues are a huge problem … it’s a hidden public health crisis,” said Rachael Taylor, a child sleep consultant at The Sleep Sanctuary, quoted by The Guardian. “There is a lot of sleep anxiety being diagnosed at the moment; it’s a new area that we are looking at, dealing with more children who have anxiety and it is coming out in sleep issues.”

Vicki Dawson, the founder of the NHS Doncaster-funded the Children’s Sleep Charity, suggested the rise was partly down to technology and the fact that the blue light from screens suppresses the production of the sleep hormone, making it harder to fall asleep. “We are increasingly seeing families where both parents are out working and this can mean that bedtime becomes later, bedtime routines may be rushed or abandoned all together,” she said. Dawson added: “A good sleep routine is key in supporting a better sleep pattern. Diet can play a role too. We see children and young people who are consuming a lot of sugar and even energy drinks to try to compensate for the sleep deprivation that they are experiencing. This then has an impact on night-time sleep.”

Sleep issues are significant: in the USA between 15% to 28% of  adults have a sleep disorder; 10% have chronic insomnia.  Of these 48.0% report snoring; 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month!  A major cause is obstructive sleep apnoea effecting 9-21% of women  and  between 24-31% of men. While many are not getting enough sleep: 37% of 20-39 year-olds and 40% of 40-59 year-olds report short sleep duration.

But what about mental health? 

 Chronic insomnia can increase a person’s chances for developing anxiety disorders and depression, according to a study conducted by Dag Neckelmann, MD, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway  (published in the July 1, 2007, issue of the journal SLEEP) demonstrated  that  Chronic insomnia can increase a person’s chances for developing anxiety disorders and depression.

The study collected date from 25,130 adults from two general health surveys conducted over a 10-year period. Compared to the group of participants without chronic insomnia in both surveys, the group with chronic insomnia had increased associations with anxiety disorders and depression. Those subjects who reported that they had insomnia during the initial survey had a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder during the second phase of the study conducted 10 years later.

Yet there is a “chicken and egg” issue here – insomnia seems be a contributing cause of mental health issues… yet mental health issues can cause insomnia.

“Focusing on chronic insomnia as a symptom of both anxiety and depression may result in the early detection of a mental disorder, as well as the detection of other illnesses or conditions that may be present,” says Neckelmann.

So wherever you start… it’s a  “vicious circle” – stress. anxiety and depression can cause insomnia… yet insomnia can expose children to mental help problems… and so on. So doctors must take note: insomnia may be an early or even the first symptom of depression and anxiety.

Which brings us back to the children –  of course we should have good bedtime routines… yet I believe we should be  looking at mental wellbeing of children with insomnia… stress, anxiety and depression are each a potential cause of the rise in such cases.