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.

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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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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