In Wellbeing

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation in Children

sleep deprivation

In today’s fast-paced world, children are pushed to their physical and emotional limits with everything that is going on in their lives. Lack of sleep is a common occurrence among school-aged children, and one that many parents may inadvertently overlook. School, homework, after school sports, familial obligations and other factors can result in children staying up too late at night and not getting the sleep they really need. Lack of sleep can have some serious negative ramifications that can affect children on every level. Learn more on Sleep Deprivation!

When children do not get enough sleep, their behaviors and academic performances can be severely impacted in a negative sense. Sleep deprivation effects reflect negative bearings on concentration, mood and attention. Children who do not get enough sleep are often energy deficient, feel tense much of the time, are irritable and may seem stressed out. These children are often associated with lower levels of social skills and typically experience increases in learning disorders throughout their years in school.

A 2002 study published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry took a look at the psychiatric symptoms that occur in school children that get insufficient sleep. More than 5,000 children between the ages of 8 and 9 took part in the study. Reports from parents and teachers were included in the data. The study found that sleep problems were closely linked with emotional problems.

The study concluded that when children do not get enough sleep, it can impair daytime functioning and general sense of wellbeing. For example, deprivation of sleep is associated with memory and learning deficits, mood changes and an increased risk of accidents. The study also found evidence that endocrine and metabolic functions may also be affected.

Children that bullies are often diagnosed with conduct disorder. This disorder affects from 2 to 9% of all US school children. Children that bully are at risk for later psychiatric symptoms, delinquency, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, criminal activity and violence. One characteristic that most children with conduct disorder share in common is poor sleeping habits.

Lack of proper sleep is associated with the following sleep deprivation symptoms:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Shortened attention span
  • Breathing disorders
  • Depression
  • Other behavioral disorders
  • Decreased quality of life

Another study, published in Sleep Medicine journal (2011) suggests that children with conduct problems, bullying or discipline referrals, in comparison to non-aggressive peers, more often had symptoms suggestive of sleep-disordered breathing. This happens when the upper airway is obstructed during sleep. Children diagnosed with disordered breathing that performed poorly in their academic endeavors, showed significant improvement in their grades after they received treatment. The researchers concluded that impaired sleep has a negative affect on certain areas of the brain. Interruption of sleep on a regular basis affects children’s decision-making capabilities and the parts of the brain that regulate emotions.

By the time a child reaches two years of age, he or she will typically have spent more time asleep than awake. Overall, children spend as much as 40% of their childhoods sleeping. Babies spend as much as 50% of their time in either a state of Rapid Eye Movement sleep or in Non-Rapid Eye movement sleep. As they age, they gradually require less sleep.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the time when the brain increases the blood supply to the child’s muscles. It is a time of energy restoration and of the release of hormones that aid in growth and development. Tissue growth and repair also take place during Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep.

During Rapid Eye Movement sleep, the brain remains active. This is the time when dreaming takes place. During REM sleep, the body becomes immobile and heart rates and breathing become irregular.

Parents can be instrumental in helping their children develop good sleeping habits. The best time to begin is when the child is still in infancy.

Ways in which parents can help their babies develop good sleep habits:

  • Try to observe the child’s natural sleep patterns and watch for signs that indicate the baby is sleepy.
  • Put the infant to bed when he or she is drowsy rather than after he or she falls asleep. This encourages “self soothing” and independence at bedtime.
  • Lay the baby on his or her back and keep the face and head free of blankets or other bedding.
  • Try to encourage sleep during the night.

By the time an infant has reached six months of age, most have begun to sleep through the night. Others take a little longer to adjust. Typically, babies sleep from 9 to 12 hours at night and may take one or two naps during the day.

Infants that are closely attached to their caregivers may have fewer sleep problems than those that are given less attention. Some infants experience separation anxiety, increased motor development or illnesses that may disrupt their sleeping patterns.

It can help to develop regular schedules for both naptime and bedtime. Helping develop a routine at bedtime can make the whole process easier. Creating a pleasant environment with low lights, stories and children’s favorite toys can help make the child feel more comfortable and at ease at bedtime.

Children between the first and third years of life need approximately 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours. After they reach about 18 months of age, their needs for naps will decrease and they will typically take only one nap that will last between 1 and 3 hours. It is best to put a toddler down for a nap late in the morning or early in the afternoon so that the nap will not interfere with the child’s regular nighttime bed routine. Children that nap late in the afternoon are prone to stay up later at night. Nightmares are a common occurrence during the toddler years.

When parents observe an irritable, tantrum-prone child during the day, the cause for the behavioral disruptions might mean that the child has not had enough sleep. The addition of a second nap in the mid-afternoon has the potential to exacerbate the problem.

When children reach school age, they typically need from 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night. As previously mentioned, there are strong demands on their time due to extracurricular and various social and school activities. This is also the age when children take a greater interest in things such as television watching, game playing on computers and other electronic devices. Watching television as bedtime draws near has been associated with difficulty in falling asleep, bedtime resistance and anxiety about sleep.

When children reach school age, sleep problems become more prevalent. This is the time when parents begin to notice mood swings or behavioral problems when their children lack sufficient sleep. They should be open with their children about the importance of sleep, and let their children know that not getting enough is not good for them. Parents can aid sleep by making their children’s rooms dark, cool and as quiet as possible. It is a good idea to keep computers and television sets away from children’s rooms when possible and to avoid allowing them to consume caffeine.

Ways in which parents can tell if their school age children are not getting enough sleep is when they appear to be overly sensitive, perhaps bursting into tears at the slightest provocation. Parents may observe that their children have difficulties concentrating on their homework or focusing during their playtimes. They may be hard to awaken in the mornings and appear groggy long after they have risen from bed. They may seem more accident-prone and talk excessively, bursting into laughter and talking in a frenzied, nonsensical way, at times.

Parents should be aware, at all times, of the sleep cues that advise them that their child is sleepy, whether it is eye-rubbing behavior, yawning or general crankiness. Not all children are equipped to express how they feel verbally, so it is up to the parents to determine whether or not the child needs more sleep. Each child is an individual, so there are no general rules concerning sleeping habits for all children. This is why parental observation is so crucial. No one can determine better than a parent, whether a child needs more sleep or not.

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