sleep deprivation in kids

Tackling Sleep Deprivation in Kids

Tackling Sleep Deprivation in Kids

Getting Enough ZZZs?

Kids today are busy little people. They are scheduled in a myriad of activities. Playing on three athletic teams, participating in band and joining an after school club have almost become the norm. Combine a full schedule of extracurricular activities with academic rigor and possibly a part time job then one is left to wonder where are the essential sleep hours needed for physical and mental development. Even babies, toddlers and preschoolers can have too much on their plates that cuts into their sleep, too.

Pooped Out

The pandemic has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on everyone’s schedules, including waking and sleeping patterns. It brought changes to how we work, how we learn, how we shop, basically how we live. Some of the changes in the aftermath of the early first years of COVID-19 have been positive and perhaps even needed; however, some are not so positive, because they greatly affected sleep habits and jolted biological clocks. Our biological clocks are regulated by circadian rhythms — natural physical, mental, and behavioral changes that help to establish a healthy 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. In the years since the pandemic started, we are still recovering and attempting to regain some of the consistent sleep patterns so essential for healthy living. When some of our shut-eye hours are disrupted or lost, children and adults suffer.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation impacts nearly a third of children ages 4 months to 17 years according to a September 2021 report shared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The report concluded that 34.9% of children in America are not getting enough sleep. Dr. Raman Malhotra, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), further states, “While it might seem like teens sleep a lot, most are sleep deprived and trying to catch up on the weekends.”

Symptoms and Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Everyone has from time to time experienced the side effects of sleep loss. It manifests itself differently depending on the age of the child. A younger child might pitch a full-blown tantrum, while an adolescent might display an attitude reflecting increased moodiness and grumpiness. “Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression,” as reported by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Some of the symptoms and signs of sleep deprivation may include the following:

  • Struggling to stay awake
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased moodiness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Long periods of day drowsiness
  • Sleep-Wake Connection

Good sleep habits underscore optimum cognitive functioning. Learning and behavioral problems as well as mood swings can be traced back to sleep deprivation. When children lack the sleep necessary for healthy development, it is easy to recognize. Fussy and cranky behaviors make it difficult for children to focus and concentrate. “Children with sleep deprivation have more difficulties learning in school and more behavioral problems,” notes Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, a pulmonary pediatrician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. Additionally, she says that teens don’t grow out of their need for sleep, and a lack of shut-eye can increase teens’ penchant for “risky behaviors.”

“Sleep is a time of body restoration” – Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot

Recommended Guidelines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2016 released guidance on the recommended hours of sleep needed for children at various ages.

Age & Hours of Sleep Needed

  • 4-12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep
  • 1-2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep
  • 3-5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep
  • 6-12 years need 9-12 hours of sleep
  • 13-18 years need 8-10 hours of sleep

Electronics and Sleep

Everyone loves their devices, but they do not induce sleep, especially when brought to bed. On the contrary, devices can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin. As daylight diminishes, the body releases the hormone melatonin. The role of this hormone is to produce feelings of sleepiness. Cell phones, tablets, readers, etc. emit what is referred to as blue light, which can reduce the production of melatonin. Additionally, blue light can decrease the amount of time one spends in slow-wave and rapid-eye (REM) sleep. These two stages in the sleep cycle play a pivotal role in cognitive functioning.

Going to battle with a child or teen over their device right before bedtime is the last thing a parent desires; however, children do need our help to establish the balance, because the ripples are significant in their development. Psychologist Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, states, “This is not about taking the phone away. They are wonderful devices, but it’s limited use.” In reference to sleep, Twenge adds a helpful suggestion for parents, “Make sure the phone doesn’t become an appendage.”


Getting a good night’s sleep might mean that tough decisions have to be made to create the balance necessary to develop healthy sleep patterns and ensure children are getting enough sleep. Getting sufficient sleep every night and building good sleep habits rely on consistency and consideration of several factors:

  • Avoid all screen time for at least an hour before bed
  • Remove devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops) from bedroom
  • Child’s bedroom should be cool, quiet and dark
  • Don’t overschedule your child
  • Allow time for homework and relaxation
  • Establish a bedtime routine
  • Include daily physical activity with fresh air and sunshine
  • Avoid caffeinated products in later afternoon/evening
  • Limit toys in the bedroom
  • Be a positive role model by making sleep a family priority

A Good Night’s Sleep

Adults can attest to the value of a good night’s sleep. It may be just as important as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for the healthy development of our children. Making sure our children get enough slumber is important not only for the next day, but also long term. They need us to guide them in finding that balance which is critical to so many things in their healthy development. The link to the learning process cannot be ignored. “You might see poor school performance, you might see kids labeled as troublemakers, when in reality they just don’t get enough sleep,” says Dr. Lee J. Brooks, pediatric pulmonologist.


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