Research into childhood sleep deprivation holds dire warnings for parents

Children may be getting less sleep than they used to. A study of the recommended and recorded times of sleep for children, according to details published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that children’s actual sleep times declined by an average of 0.73 minutes per year between 1897 and 2009, a total of about 1 hour 22 minutes. Although growing bodies and brains need plenty of sleep, there is no guaranteed amount that will fit every child in every situation. Effective parents will observe their own children’s behavior to determine how much sleep they need, and should be aware of the signs of sleep deprivation.

Behavioral difficulties

Parents soon learn to recognize when their toddler needs a nap. Eye rubbing and unusual clumsiness are swiftly followed by tantrums and tears if the crucial nap is delayed for too long. Yet these same behavioral problems can persist in older children, even though it seems to become more difficult for parents to make the connection between undesirable behavior and lack of sleep. Tantrums, moodiness and hyperactive behavior may be an indication that a child is sleep-deprived. According to an article published in the journal Sleep, a study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed that sleep restriction has a negative impact on the level of ADHD symptoms.

Learning difficulties

Lack of sleep and bad behavior at home can lead to unacceptable conduct and learning difficulties at school. An article published in the journal Pediatrics cited a study which found that reduced time in bed was a contributor to cognitive impairment in children.

Obesity and other health problems

The National Sleep Foundation refers to studies that have found a connection between the quality and quantity of sleep and a range of health problems. It appears that insufficient sleep can reduce growth hormone secretion and increase the risk of weight gain. Diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems are other possible side effects of not enough sleep.

Increased risk of emotional problems such as depression

Not only physical well-being, but also children’s mental health, can be affected by sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation says:

NSF’s 2006 Sleep in America poll, which focused on children aged 11 to 17, found a strong association between negative mood and sleep problems. Among adolescents who reported being unhappy, 73% reported not sleeping enough at night.

Poor impulse control and risk-taking

Lack of sleep in the early and middle years of childhood may be becoming more prevalent as a result of increasingly busy lifestyles, but there are indications that sleep deprivation amongst teenagers has reached chronic levels. Teenagers may have a computer or TV in their bedroom, and large numbers of adolescents own a mobile phone and are active on social media. As a result they may spend hours alone in their room at night, when they should be sleeping, either surfing the Internet or engaging with friends electronically. Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that there is a correlation between reduced sleep and risk-taking behavior in adolescents.

The Mayo Clinic has guidelines for the amount of sleep needed by various age groups. If your child is reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, or falls asleep during daylight hours long after they should have outgrown the need for a daytime nap, there is a strong possibility they are sleep-derived and some parental intervention is needed to avoid a range of physical, mental and emotional problems.