What To Do With Sleep Deprivation In Kids

What To Do With Sleep Deprivation In Kids
By Joanna Santillan

Sleep deprivation is a root cause of many problems that shows up almost every day: fatigue, learning and concentration difficulties, and accidents. Everyone can be affected by sleep deprivation, especially children. Why? Because there are a lot of things that capture their attention nowadays. They get caught up with most of these and forget to log a full length of sleep.

Sleep is as important to the human body as food and water, but many of us don’t get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep, inadequate quality of sleep or disruptions to the sleep-wake cycle has very unhealthy consequences on how we function.

Effects of Sleep Loss on Children.

The subject of sleep loss on both adults and children is quite a well-studied one. Many research and studies have said the following about sleep loss on children:

  • Sleep loss causes a range of schooling problems, including naughtiness and poor concentration.
  • Chronically sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely to have problems with impulse control, which leads to risk-taking behaviours.
  • Sleep problems in teenagers are associated with increased risk of disorders such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • High school students who regularly score C, D or F in school tests and assignments get, on average, half an hour less sleep per night than high school students who regularly get A and B grades.

How much sleep is enough?

Sleep requirements differ from one person to the other, depending on age, physical activity levels, general health and other individual factors. But in general:

  • Primary school children – need about nine to 10 hours of sleep. Studies show that increasing your child’s sleep by as little as half an hour can dramatically improve school performance.
  • Teenagers – need about nine to 10 hours too. However, they have the most difficulty in maintaining a healthy sleep pattern because of increased social engagements and peer pressure. These cause a reduction in sleep time.
  • Adults – need about eight hours, depending on individual factors. Adults tend to need less sleep, but be guided by your state of alertness – if you feel tired during the day, aim to get more sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation offers this guideline regarding how many hours of sleep a child should get during a 24 hour period:

  • Newborns (birth to 2 months): 10.5 – 18 hours
  • Infants (3-11 months): 9-12 hours
  • Toddlers (age 1-3): 12-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (age 3-5): 11-13 hours
  • School-age (age 5-12): 10-11 hours
  • Adolescent (age12 – 18): at least 8 1/2 hours

It’s vital for your children to have enough sleep. When they have enough sleep, they can function right throughout the day.

Tips to help your children to have enough sleep.

  1. Set up a sleep schedule.

    Sleep is set up by an instinct called the Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle. This is regulated by light and dark, and these rhythms take time to develop. That’s why you need to establish a sleep schedule.

    It’s easy to follow a sleep pattern when it’s organized in a schedule. If you get any resistance from your kids, that’s quite natural. Just explain to them that when they get enough sleep, they’ll become healthy and they will perform better at school and at play.

    Just remember to be consistent with this schedule. Adjust your family activities according to this sleep schedule. 

  2. Make their bedrooms conducive for rest.

    Take a bath/bathe them before going to sleep. Read them a bedtime story. Set a relaxing music, and give them a goodnight hug and kiss. Improve their sleeping environment in any way you can. Keep it dark and soundproof, turn off lights. If possible, takeaway any source of distraction. (ex. TV, computer) Make sure that there environment is cool and quiet.

  3. Never use sleep as a punishment to your child.

    When your kids show bad behaviour, don’t use sleep as punishment. You must encourage sleep as a positive action so they’ll understand that sleep will help them grow big and strong.

  4. Give your babies a breath of fresh air.

    The almost abandoned custom of giving a baby plenty of daily fresh air may have a hidden benefit in helping a baby to sleep better at night, according to research. A study has found that babies sleep longer when exposed to plenty of light in the afternoon, a time when many mothers used to put babies in the garden or take them to a park.

  5. Buy them a reminder.

    You can give them teddy bears, stuff toys, pillows, and blankets. These are called transitional objects. Transitional objects help them remind themselves to fall asleep. This way, parents don’t have to be there in order for their kids to fall asleep.

  6. See a sleep specialist.

    If you’ve done every possible tip on this list and nothing seems to work, go see a sleep specialist. Your child can be placed in a lot of stress and his/her health might be compromised.

  7. Refrain from any physical activities hours before sleeping.

    Physical activities increases the adrenalin output in your blood, making you more alert and focused. Good for certain situations, but not before sleeping. So make sure your child is relaxed before going to bed. Use relaxation techniques to help them fall asleep quickly.

Remember

Not getting enough sleep due to sleep disruptions and short sleep cycles can cause reduced alertness, concentration & awareness, slower reaction time, poorer memory, moodiness, loss of motivation, forgetfulness, poor decision making, and microsleep (brief periods of involuntary sleeping that range from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration).

As you can see, these effects are huge contributing factors in the performance level of your child in school and at play, and in his/her growth process. So the notion of just letting loss of sleep pass is out of the conversation. This is an urgent and important issue that must be addressed immediately so no bad thing can happen to your child.


Joanna SantillanAbout the Author: Joanna Santillan

With a desire to make life easier for mums in UAE, Joanna – with the help of her husband -started Afterschool.ae, the first platform dedicated in listing all UAE kid’s activities for parents and children alike. She is an entrepreneur mum blessed with 3 lovely children.

Joanna can be found on Facebook and Google+

7 Comments

Nadia

This is more like a question. My 3 year old NEVER naps. She gets about 10-11 hours of sleep at night, but is a huge nap refuser.

What is a parent to do? The article mentions to not use naps as a punishment. In her case, if if I were to send her to her room, tuck her in and say, “Time for a nap” and then she begins to cry, wouldn’t she consider that a punishment in her mind?

Reply
Hey Sigmund

It may be that your daughter doesn’t need a nap. Though many three year olds still need a nap, there are many who don’t. If she has been resisting all this time, and still getting a good amount of sleep at night, I certainly wouldn’t force the issue with her. Explore other ways for her to recharge that involve quiet play, rather than sleep.

Reply
Karen

From jr high on, my daughter engaged in a vicious cycle of working late into the night to do homework and rising early to go to school. The more tired she was, the longer her homework took to do. She did nothing else, often sleeping through her one extra curricular activity. We spent hours everyday trying to get her through her day. In her Jr. year of high school, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (ocd) and treated with meds. and therapy. Also took her to a sleep specialist. Still no progress on sleep or work habits. We found a therapist in her senior year who told her that there was nothing he or anyone could do for her if she didn’t get regular 8 hrs of sleep. I was so happy to finally get support for this. He “prescribed” melatonin an hour before a corrected bedtime. It worked like a charm. A half hour after taking it, she would be flopped on her bed sound asleep. Usually fully dressed. A few months later, she is now getting ready for bed on time, getting herself up and to her summer job, making new friends and planning social events. Her quality of life has improved dramatically and the stress on everyone around her is gone.

Reply
Karen

Thank you. That is excellent advice. The melatonin was checked with her prescribing physician first!
It is not always the right thing for teens.
My main point is meant to be that getting the right sleep has made a huge difference. Thank you for another helpful article.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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