21 November 2023 What Happens When Your Child Does Not Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to a child’s health. 
A recent Netflix’s Thai movie regarding sleep deprivation called “Deep” depicts this well. The psychological thriller portrayed [...]
the journey of four university students who were involved in a neuroscience experiment that had gone haywire. 
Due to lack of sleep, their body experienced foreign and unusual body sensations which in turn led to more severe outcomes like hallucinations and inability to make sound judgments and decisions in their daily life. 

While the movie is largely fiction, the symptoms of sleep deprivation are fairly presented. 
If that many effects can occur in a young adult, what more for a child who is still in their growing phase? 

What happens when your child are sleep-deprived?
The benefits of sufficient sleep for a child are many and widely known. Consistently, there are many severe and long-lasting consequences for the lack of it. 

(1) Mood Dysregulation
One of the effects of sleep deprivation is mood dysregulation. According to Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the author of Sleeping Through the Night, "Kids who do not get enough sleep have trouble regulating their emotions." [1]. 
A sleep-deprived child may appear to be more aggressive and easily irritated. It may also result in mood swings, being restless, hyperactive and impatient. If their sleep deprivation persists, they would also manifest certain behaviours such as fighting with others, yelling, making threats, and causing harm to themselves in severe cases [8]. 

Not getting sufficient sleep could result in a greater risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in teens over time [1]. 

According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania on the influence of partial sleep deprivation on mood, participants who were restricted to only 4.5 hours of sleep per night for a week were reported to feel more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. 

However, as the participants resumed a normal sleep pattern with 8 hours of sleep, they observed a significant change and improvement in the mood [2]. Some improvements which were reported include being more alert, mentally sharp, physically energetic, calm, happy, and healthy [2].

(2) Impaired Metabolism 
Besides, another effect of insufficient sleep is impairment in body metabolism. 

Metabolism is known as the whole range of biochemical processes in the body and it involves the processes of anabolism (the building up of bigger structures from smaller units like nutrients from our food) and catabolism (the breakdown of larger units to smaller ones, such as the the breakdown of fat as an energy source) [3]. 

In short, metabolism is the amount of energy (calories) the body burns to maintain itself [3]. 

In a research conducted at the University of Chicago it was evident that sleep deprivation leads to a  decreased rate of glucose clearance by 40% [3]. 

The research involved 11 healthy young men where they were subjected to only 4 hours in bed for 6 nights followed by 12 hours for 7 nights to recover from the sleep debt. After that, their glucose tolerance was measured. [3]. 

A glucose tolerance test can indicate the ability to dispose glucose from the blood. Glucose intolerance could result in high blood glucose levels in the body which increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. 

A similar effect can also be seen in infants, children, and adolescents whereby lack of sleep is associated with impaired function in glucose metabolism. 

Hence, sleep deprivation can alter metabolic function and lead to a myriad of illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension [10]. 

(3) Poor Academic Performance
In addition, sleep deficit can result in poorer academic performance which includes a decline in cognitive functions such as follows [4]:
  • Decreased attention
  • Weakened memory
  • Slowed mental processing
  • Worsened sequential thinking
  • Reduced creative thinking
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Heightened risk of aggressive behavior
Therefore, failure in getting sufficient sleep with high quality and optimum duration would cause a decline in academic performance at school in the long term. 

How much sleep should your child get?
According to Griffin from WebMD, the amount of sleep required varies according to their age groups [1, 5].

A helpful guideline is as follows:
  • Infants (4 to 12 months) need 12 to 16 hours of sleep.
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years) need 12 to 14 hours of sleep.
  • Pre-schoolers (3 to 5 years) need 11 to 13 hours of sleep.
  • School-aged children (6 to 12 years) need 10 to 11 hours of sleep.
  • Pre-teens and teens (13 to 18 years) need around 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep. 

Hence, any amount of sleep less than the amount above indicates that your child is not getting adequate sleep that is essential for their health and development. 

Is your child getting enough sleep? 
Children may encounter difficulty falling asleep. If your child is one of them, they could be having pediatric insomnia. 

This insomnia is a sleep disorder that leads to an inability to fall and stay asleep. Children with this condition may be seen to wake up too early in the morning as well [6].

This childhood insomnia can be seen in 3 kinds of manifestations such as:
  • chronic insomnia: ongoing and happens 3 times a week for a month or longer. 
  • cyclical insomnia: issues balancing wake-and-sleep cycles which can come and go throughout life. 
  • transient insomnia: typically lasts less than three weeks. 

Not only that, according to a sleep survey conducted by The Nielsen Company in 2019, 9 out of 10 Malaysians suffer from sleep problems with 63% of the respondents between ages 25 and 49 reported taking over 30 minutes to fall asleep in which portrays the prevalence of sleeping deficiencies among adults [7].

From these statistics, parents must now be mindful that sleep disorders such as insomnia must be prevented at an early age. Children need to be educated with proper sleep hygiene and a fixed bedtime routine so that they can maintain their health as a result of quality sleep and rest.

What is the tendency for my child to develop insomnia?

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[1] R. M. Griffin, "This Is Your Kid’s Brain Without Sleep," WedMD, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/recharge/features/brain-without-sleep.

[2] D. F. Dinges, F. Pack, K. Williams, K. A. Gillen, J. W. Powell, G. E. Ott, C. Aptowicz and A. I. Pack, "Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night," Sleep, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 267-277, 1997. 

[3] S. Sharma and M. Kavuru, "Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview," International Journal of Endocrinology, vol. 2010, p. 270832, 2010. 

[4] N. Vyas and E. Suni, "Improve Your Child’s School Performance With a Good Night’s Sleep," Sleep Foundation, 15 January 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/sleep-and-school-performance.

[5] Children's Health, "Pediatric Insomnia," Children's Health, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.childrens.com/specialties-services/conditions/difficulty-in-falling-asleep-or-staying-asleep.

[6] Children's Hospital Colorado, "Insufficient Sleep in Children," Children's Hospital Colorado, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/conditions/sleep-deprivation/.

[7] M. Murugesan, "Counting Sheep," New Straits Times, 25 April 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/heal/2019/04/482768/counting-sheep.

[8] American Academy of Sleep Medicine, "For children, poor sleep can lead to emotional and behavioral problems," Sleep Education, 22 April 2008. [Online]. Available: https://sleepeducation.org/poor-sleep-children-emotional-behavioral-problems/.

[9] "Anabolism vs. Catabolism: The Role They Play in Your Metabolism," Cleveland Clinic, 13 July 2021. [Online]. Available: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/anabolism-vs-catabolism/.

[10] M. A. Miller, M. Kruisbrink, J. Wallace, C. Ji and F. P. Cappuccio, "Sleep duration and incidence of obesity in infants, children, and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies," Sleep, vol. 41, no. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy018, 2018.