In children, even minor sleep deprivation can affect their ability to learn. It begins impairing memory, attention, and ability to concentrate. Because babies are unable to talk about how they feel, and older kids and teenagers can be poor judges of their own sleepiness, it is up to us to know the signs of sleep deprivation so we can help them to get the sleep they need. Kids who are hard to wake up in the morning and fall asleep during the day are most likely sleep deprived, and defiant behavior and hyperactivity are signs that chronic sleep deprivation is taking place.
Previous studies of adults have found that not getting enough sleep impairs the brain’s executive control system which helps us to organize, prioritize, and focus on tasks.
Long term effects of not enough sleep are very serious and include maladies such as memory problems, depression, increased perception of pain, and weakened immune system.
Kids may also become more moody when sleep deprived. The possible catch-22 involved here is that the intensity of their emotions may make it hard to sleep, and in turn, that sleeplessness makes them more emotionally intense.
In addition, the stress hormone cortisol is elevated during these times of too little sleep and can be a precursor to appetite increase and alter the body’s response to sugar intake, which are linked to obesity and diabetes.
While these adverse effects of sleep deprivation have been proven, researchers continue to uncover reasons why our health depends so greatly on getting enought of it. It would be wise for us to start thinking about ways we can get our children (and ourselves) to sleep enough, so that our physical and mental health can remain healthy.
Some coping strategies that we can try are:
- Avoiding caffeine and sugar (especially in the afternoon/evening)
- Turn off television and computer distractions
- Go to bed and wake up at consistent times
- Avoid artificial lighting before bedtime
- Start “winding down” well before going to bed (sleep ritual)
- Avoid alcohol
Of all the healthy choices we try to make every day for ourselves and our families, sleep should be on the list, preferably at the top.
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