Negative effects of sleep deprivation in children

While children are affected by lack of sleep just as adults are, the impact of sleep deprivation differs between adults and children. A tired adult may look sleepy and move slowly. To the contrary, sleep-deprived kids often look like they’re bursting with energy. Don’t be deceived by this faux energy as it is often a sign of lack of sleep. Sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development. Therefore, sleep is vital for children because they are constantly growing and developing. When children’s sleep needs aren’t met, the signs are often seen in their behavior.

Chronic sleep deprivation can resemble symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) including, inattention, impulsivity, decreased cognitive performance and hyperactivity. It’s not uncommon for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD when really suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Some children tend to become disagreeable, excitable and engage in extreme behaviors like tantrums or aggression when there is a lack of adequate sleep. Young children who are chronically sleep-deprived have trouble managing emotions. Children may exhibit a lack of patience, have easily hurt feelings, or become clumsy and accident-prone. Many will also be more wired and frenzied at playtime.

For school-aged children, sleep is especially important. Even minor changes in sleep can impair learning, memory and focus. While kids may beg to stay up just a little while longer, studies show that even one less hour of sleep does make a difference in a how well a child learns. An overly tired child is unable to concentrate on tasks which often lead to frustration or other emotional distress. Overtired children also become forgetful and make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make. They may bother other children or talk excessively because they are trying to stimulate their brain to regain focus.

The impact of sleep deprivation can also be found in infant behavior. While sleep patterns vary widely among infants there are certain behaviors infants exhibit that may evidence sleep deprivation including a glazed over look, lack of interest in people and toys and difficulty in waking. Infants may also have difficulty recovering from negative emotions.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, in the first year, infants need 14 to 18 hours of sleep out of 24. Generally, they should have 10 hours at night and the remainder during daytime naps. Toddlers (aged 1-3) need 12-14 hours. Until they are 18 or 19 months, they need two naps a day and 10 hours at night. Preschoolers typically sleep 11-13 hours each night. Many parents believe their preschoolers no longer require a nap, but many still need at least rest time during the day. Generally, however, most do not nap after age five. School-aged children, aged five to 12, need approximately 10-11 hours of sleep. At this age there are often increased demands, including homework and extracurricular activities. As such, sleep problems can become especially prevalent at this age.

Studies establish a clear link between sleep deprivation and behavior. Irregular bedtimes, often resulting in lack of sufficient sleep, affect children’s behavior by disrupting their body clock. Such disruption leads not only to sleep deprivation, which affects the developing brain, but also causes conduct problems and emotional difficulties. As children progress through childhood, it is important that regular bedtimes be established and consistently followed.