We all know that sleep is important, both for our physical health as well as for our mental and emotional well-being. And most adults wish they could have more sleep than they’re getting. But kids can have the opposite problem – they often don’t recognize when they are tired, and they end up begging parents to stay up “just a little longer.” But new studies are showing that sleep deprivation in children can actually be devastating to their cognitive functioning and poses a threat to their health. So it’s important for parents to recognize the signs of sleep deprivation in children and learn what they can do to remedy the situation.
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation in Children
How can you tell if your child is experiencing sleep deprivation? When children are sleep deprived, they sometimes exhibit symptoms that are different from sleep deprivation in adults. Here are some of the main sleep deprivation symptoms in children to look for:
- If they fall asleep immediately at night. A healthy sleeper usually takes 15-20 minutes to fall asleep.
- Napping during the day.
- Difficulty concentrating; problems at school.
- Making up for lost sleep on weekends – sleeping in.
- Has a hard time waking up in the morning.
- Cranky, whiny, defiant behavior.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Some of the side-effects of sleep deprivation in children are downright scary. One scientist did a study in which some students got one hour less sleep than classmates. When they tested the students the next day, they found that a 6th-grade student performed at a 4th-grade level. That one hour of sleep is equivalent to two year’s loss of cognitive ability. One scientist compared sleep disorders to lead poisoning, explaining that sleep loss impairs the brain as much as lead poisoning.
Sleep loss can also lead to weight gain,. Kids who get less sleep are actually fatter than those who get more sleep. And in the U.S., where childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic, that’s vital to know. Children need to get enough sleep in order for their bodies to function properly. Sleep deprivation can also lead to a weakened immune system, hyperactivity, and behavior problems. Some researchers theorize that lack of sleep can permanently alter a child’s brain in ways that cannot be reversed. The effects of sleep deprivation in children can be devastating to a child’s growth and development. If there are problems with your child’s sleep, it’s worthwhile to work to solve them.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
There are many reasons your child may not be getting as much sleep as necessary. One obvious reason is that your child may not be going to bed at a reasonable time. Children ages 5-9 need about 11 hours of sleep at night, and children ages 10-13 need around 10 hours of sleep. Younger children need even more sleep than that.
Other problems include drinking soda and other caffeinated beverages and watching tv, using a computer, or playing video games right before bedtime. Any of these things can get the child hyped up and unable to fall asleep in a timely manner. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. If your child is having a hard time at school or any other arena, it can manifest itself in a lack of sleep.
How to Help Your Child Sleep Better
There are many things you can do to help encourage better sleep for your child depending on the age of the child and reason for sleep deprivation. Here are just a few ideas to help you out.
- Make sure your child gets to bed at an hour that allows for enough sleep before needing to wake up. Be firm with the chosen bedtime.
- Create a bedtime routine and stick with it each night. Make bedtime a pleasant, loving experience for your child. It’s a chance for you as a parent to spend quality time with your child.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, chocolate, and sugar, especially near bedtime, although caffeine can affect a child even when consumed early in the day.
- Avoid TV and computer time right before bed, as media consumption in the evening can arouse the brain and prevent good sleep.
- Use white noise, such as a fan or special product that produces white noise, to help block out distracting noises that keep your child awake.
- If your child has anxiety or stress keeping him or her awake, discuss the situation and look for ways to ease the stress. Some children need to cut back on activities and lessons in order to have some down time. In some cases, a doctor or a therapist may need to help.
Sleep deprivation causes problems for anyone at any age, but it is particularly detrimental to children because they are still growing and developing. Because of this, it’s important to recognize the signs of sleep deprivation and work to resolve the issues. Your child needs a healthy amount of sleep in order to function properly.