11 Negative Effects of Childhood Sleep Deprivation

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  • September 05, 2013

childhood sleep deprivationDo you have a tantrum throwing, fussy, emotional child? If so, you may be dealing with a case of sleep deprivation. Sleep is incredibly important for all of us, especially our children. In fact, Rebecca G. Astill of the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience conducted a study researching the effects of sleep impairment in children.

In this study, Astill’s study examined more than 35,000 children ages 5 to 12. She was looking at how sleep affected school performance and behavior. Astill found that shorter episodes of sleep resulted in poor academic performance, and that these same children had more behavioral issues than their well-rested peers. Astill stated, “The suggestion that insufficient sleep in children affects cognitive performance and aggravates behavioral problems is of particular practical relevance given the increasing tendency towards curtailment of their sleep.”

As if this were not motivation enough, there is evidence that lack of sleep can contribute to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity. Additionally, recent studies have shown that some children diagnosed with ADHD may actually be sleep deprived. So how can you tell if your child needs more sleep?

Whether your child is a toddler or school age, the following signs may indicate childhood sleep deprivation:

• Overly emotional (explosive temper tantrums, easily hurt feelings, no patience)
• Difficult to wake in the morning
• Difficulty concentrating or focusing during play
• Taking long, or excessive naps
• Hyperactivity
• Defiant or contrary behavior
• Difficulty falling asleep (overtired)
• Falling asleep as soon as they hit the pillow (sleep should take about 20 minutes for a healthy sleeper)
• Increased appetite
• Accident prone, or clumsy
• Excessive talking (more questions than normal or frenzied conversation)

If you suspect that your child isn’t getting enough sleep, you can help him get more sleep by following these tips:

Know How Much Sleep Your Child Needs

Toddlers and preschoolers need an average of 13 hours of sleep, divided up between two hours of naps and 11 hours at night. Although your preschooler may no longer nap, encouraging a period of quiet time in the afternoon can help keep your child rested, and help him to sleep better at night.

Do Not Exceed Your Child’s Wakefulness Window

Wakefulness windows are the period of time that your child can remain awake without needing sleep. Infants obviously have very short wakefulness windows, while toddlers and preschoolers wakefulness windows will be longer. When your child is awake for longer than the recommended time, you may find that he has a hard time settling, relaxing, and may fight sleep later in the day.

Be Aware of Appropriate Bedtimes and Wake Times

For most children, a bedtime between 7 and 8:00 p.m. is entirely appropriate, which coincides with starting the day between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Many parents don’t realize that a later bedtime can actually result in your child fighting sleep, which can result in nap resistance, and, not surprisingly, a number of the above symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Limit the Things That Disrupt Sleep

Be aware of your child’s caffeine intake, as well as the amount of television (or any screens, for that matter) he is watching. Try to schedule your errands or outings around your child’s naptimes, and don’t agree to extracurricular activities if they interfere with bedtimes.

It’s also a good idea to get outside for a bit each day. So go on a walk, play in the grass, or have a picnic lunch. Be aware that sunlight interferes with the production of melatonin, so plan your outings around naptimes, coming inside out of the sun at least an hour before you plan to have your child get ready to sleep.

Know Your Child’s Sleep Cues

Chances are that by the time your child acts ‘tired’, it’s already too late. Watch for tired cues, such as rubbing his eyes, yawning, lack of focus, or general crankiness. When you miss your child’s sleepy cues, you may notice that he is suddenly wired, jumpy, and frantic. This also means that it will be harder for him to wind down for sleep. So watch carefully.

How to do you make sure that your children don’t suffer from sleep deprivation?

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photo credit: Rachel Coleman Finch via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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