Lack of sleep affects a child’s overall behavior as well as his physical as well as mental health. It may cause serious problems, such as night walking, memory and concentration issues, stress, behavioral problems, performance issues, reduction in reaction time and even childhood diabetes in acute cases. That is the reason why a child needs a minimum of nine hours of sleep at night.
Signs & Symptoms of Lack of Sleep in Children
So how can one know that the child is suffering from lack of sleep? Here are a few signs that exhibit sleep problem in children. If your child is suffering from one of these, refer a pediatrician immediately.
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Getting up often at night
- Sleep walking
- Not able to sleep
- Finding it difficult to stay awake during the day
- Having nightmares or sleepwalking
- Effect on performance in studies, sports etc.
Lack of sleep can affect infants too. A newborn should sleep every hour. As the baby becomes 4 months old, she should be able to manage a total of 8 hours of sleep at night, even if the baby sleeps off and on. As they are 6 months old, they should be able to sleep at least 10 hours during the night. It is important to note that studies have shown a close connection between mother’s mood and baby’s sleep. Even University of Michigan has published an article about the connection between the mother’s mood and baby’s sleep. It has been observed that the babies who have a chaotic sleeping pattern were those, whose mothers suffer from depression problem.
What causes sleep deprivation in kids?
There are various reasons for lack of sleep in kids including:
- Illness: Often owing to ill health like cold, cough, fever and tonsils, many kids are unable to sleep. They wake up frequently and this affects their health.
- Personal Entertainment Choice: These days there are so many gadgets available for kids, including laptops, mobile phones, iPads and video games, that they stay awake till the wee hours of the morning to play games. Many prefer watching television till late at night or read a book. All these lead to lack of sleep.
- Studies: Children have competitive spirits at very early stage in life today. They want to compete with friends and that is the reason why many kids study till late at night and miss out on stress buster, rejuvenating sleep.
- Home Environment: If the parents believe in socializing and sleeping late, it is obvious the child to stay awake till late hours. Children often emulate their parents, who are role models for them.
- Environmental Factors: Often the environmental factors contribute largely to lack of sleep like if the weather is too hot or cold or the neighbors’ put on loud music at night.
What are the effects of lack of sleep on children?
Research and studies have shown kids can suffer from several problems due to sleep deprivation. Some of the problems that affect sleep deprived children, as American Academy Family Physicians and American Academy of Sleep Medicine are as follows:
- Problems in School: Because of lack of sleep, the child may sleep during classes, may not be able to concentrate and may also become notorious in the school. This can drive down the grades of the child and also get him in trouble with educators and school authorities.
- Behavioral Issues: It has been observed that sleep deprived children have problems with impulse control. They often bully kids in the school.
- Mental Disorders: Lack of sleep leads to various mental disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression.
- Negativity and Stubbornness: Such kids tend to become negative in attitude and approach towards life and stubbornness is another behavioral problem that these children get into.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common problems faced by children because of lack of sufficient sleep. It causes various problems such as focusing, controlling emotions and behavior and sitting straight, and these behaviors consequently lead to isolation, poor performance, lower social skills, etc. Children suffering from ADHD need special care by parents at home and teachers at school. They should be treated by mental health professionals
What studies show?
Studies have shown children suffering from ADHD are always sleepy during the daytime and 50% such children complain of breathing problems. It leads to periodic leg movement syndrome and restless legs syndrome. According to a survey conducted in America, 2/3rd American children were suffering from some sort of sleeping disorder which is a result of inadequate sleep at night. One of the studies proved that merely bringing a healthy sleeping pattern can help these kids to get rid of hyperactivity and attention related problems.
If we compare the behavioral pattern of kids with adults, one can clearly see that while adults get lethargic with lack of sleep, kids speed up. Children become emotionally weak, violent and have mood swings because they feel sleepy and tired from within but are unable to understand what is wrong with them.
When lack of sleep becomes intolerable for a child, you would observe following symptoms occurring in the child:
- GER or Gastro-esophageal Reflux
- Scratchy tags
- Abdominal gas, teething and other similar pains that would keep him awake the whole night
- Feeling of discomfort. Finding the weather too hot or too cold to sleep, or feeling hungry and/or thirsty
- Getting up time and again (having disrupted sleep)
- Infection in the bladder
- Anal itching due to pinworms
Other than the above mentioned signs, you may notice even a small noise wakes up your child.
How much sleep does your child need?
Now the question arises, how much sleep is enough for a child to ensure he is active and healthy. It all depends on the age of the child, his general health, physical activity and many more individual factors. We may generally categorize sleep as per the following consideration:
- Children from 3 years to 10 years: This age group requires at least 10 hours of sleep at night.
- Children between 11 years and 19 years: Also known as teenagers, this group needs at least nine hours of sleep. However, they need to break their sleep in such a manner that they get rest throughout the day. They may sleep around 8 hours at night and for about an hour in the afternoon to deal with factors such as peer pressure, social engagements and studies. Rather than give in to the urge of keeping awake till late hours of the night and chatting with friends, playing games or watching movies, teenagers should try and catch maximum sleep at night to deal with next day’s pressures.
Improving Children’s Sleep
Only a parent can help their children. But how can you help your child fight lack of sleep? It is very simple. Try and bring change to his lifestyle. Depending what age group your child belongs to, understand his requirements and at the same time do your part.
Here are a few tips to improve your child’s sleep:
- Right from a very young age, maintain a regular time to go to bed. Similarly, the child should get up at the same time every day. If it is a weekend, do not allow the child to sleep in or deviate from his bedtime and waking up routine.
- The bedtime routine should be relaxed wherein you may give a bath to your child prior to sleeping or read a story to him and tuck him in the bed.
- Avoid giving caffeinated drinks to the child at night.
- Don’t give heavy meals to children at night. Avoid sweets just before sleeping time.
- The bedroom should have a comfortable temperature. It should be neither too cold nor too hot. Also, it shouldn’t be too dark.
- Try and limit noises in the house at night time.
- Don’t ever allow television, mobiles, computer and music late at night. In fact, don’t let the child have these things in his room. If the child reads at night, he should read just a page and go off to sleep immediately after that.
- Don’t wait for your infant to sleep in your arms. They should be made to sleep the moment they appear sleepy.
If these tips do not work for you, ask for help!
Where can you find help?
Visit a pediatrician or a child psychologist for additional guidance. You may also visit a nearest sleep disorder clinic.
There are various government organizations dedicated to this very cause. You may also take help from there. Here is a detailed list:
- National Sleep Foundation: It is aimed at improving public health and safety. It helps patients of ages suffering from sleep disorders.
- National Center of Sleep Disorder Research: It is a part of the National Institutes of Health and aims at improving health of Americans through training research, technology and synchronization.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine: It teaches people about various sleep disorders and how to overcome them with the right treatment.
- Narcolepsy Network: It manages and supports groups, researches and educates people about narcolepsy.
- Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation: It focused on supporting and informing people about Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).
- American Sleep Apnea Association: It aims at sleep apnea and related injuries, disabilities and cases of death.
- Not having enough sleep at night causes fatigue to the body and mind which can lead to several emotional and mental disorders.
- Hand to eye coordination of the body reduces if a child (or adult) stays awake for 24 consecutive hours.
- The effect of sleep deprivation is much more alarming in children as compared to adults.
So if you see any of the symptoms of lack of sleep in your child, act immediately. It may lead to serious problems later on, affecting the child’s mind and body. Lack of sleep will change your child’s personality, affect his studies and also adversely affect his social interaction.