Friday, August 5, 2011

Sleep Deprivation in Children

I know, another sleep post, but this one is a little bit different.  How many of you suffer from sleep deprivation?  If one of you reading this did not raise your hand, please let me know your secret, because I think every mother out there (and any non mom working adult for that matter) suffers from lack of sleep!

But as adults we know the signs and symptoms of lack of sleep, how to help our selves and what we need to do to get more sleep.

With children, it's a whole other issue.  I see SO many children suffering from lack of sleep. Babies, toddlers and school aged kids.  Some of the symptoms mimic other disorders.  A lot of school aged kids are misdiagnosed as ADHD because they are distracted and hyper from lack of sleep, not because they have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Right now my child has been fighting her afternoon naps so I am thinking she is moving towards one a day. But I am still trying to figure out if it's just because she reached a new milestone of walking or just ready to transition. Our doctor said normally they transition to 1 at 18 months, so who knows.  Either way, I want to make sure she is getting enough sleep and I'm not sleep depriving her.

I was reading Dr. Oz's baby book (You Having a Baby) yesterday as I was trying to find answers about naps, and he said it best when discussing sleep deprivation in babies:

Signs of sleep deprivation are nearly invisible in babies and young kids, so it's   virtually impossible for parents to see if sleep deprivation is causing any damage.  The harm actually becomes visible around the age of two, when a child who's been tired for 2 years becomes defiant, non compliant, and ready to color Grandma's house with his crayola 64!

What does general lack of sleep look like in kids?

-Hyperactivity and irritability

-Crankiness and fussiness

-Crying and whining

-Increased illnesses (lack of sleep leads to a poor immune system)

-More accident prone (because less sleep leads to motor skills weakened)

-Bad moods (moods are a good gauge to whether a child is getting enough sleep or not)


With my child being a toddler, she isn't old enough to express she's tired, so how do you know what it looks like in a non verbal child?

  • Since toddlers are notoriously moody creatures, the tantrums and meltdowns that might clue you in are often taken for granted as typical toddler behavior.

  • Toddlers often act less tired as exhaustion sets in. Hyperactive behavior, fidgeting, and loudness are not signs of excessive energy; rather, they are the wiped-out toddler’s last-ditch effort to keep himself awake.

Exactly how much sleep should your child be getting?

Age Nighttime Sleep (hours) Daytime Sleep (hours) Total Sleep  (hours)
 1 month 8.5 (many naps) 7.5 (many naps) 16
 3 months 6-10 5-9 15
 6 months 10-12 3-4.5 14.5
 9 months 11 3 (2 naps) 14
 12 months 11 2.5 (2 naps) 13.5
 18 months 11 2.5 (1-2 naps) 13.5
 2 years 11 2 (1 nap) 13
 3 years 10.5 1.5 (1 nap) 12
 4 years 11.5 0 11.5
 5 years 11 0 11
 6 years 11 0 11
 7 years 11 0 11
 8 years 10-11 0 10-11
 9 years 10-11 0 10-11
 10 years 10 0 10
 11 years 10 0 10
 12-13 years 9.5-10 0 9.5-10
 14 years 9.5 0 9.5

But not all sleep deprived kids are getting less sleep because they are going to bed too late or waking up too early.  Sleep problems or disorders may include having difficulty falling asleep, regularly waking up during the night, nightmares, sleep terrors and sleep apnea.

So what to do?  Here are some tips I have found to help get your child back on track:

  • Check with your doctor to make sure they do not have a sleep disorder first, and rule out any illnesses that could be causing less sleep.

  • Make bedtime a special time.  It should be a time for you to interact with your child in a way that is loving, yet firm. At bedtime, spend some special time with your child. Use a simple, regular bedtime routine.  It should not last too long and should take place primarily in the room where the child will sleep.  It may include a few simple, quiet activities, such as a light snack, bath, cuddling, saying goodnight, and a story or lullaby. The kinds of activities in the routine will depend on the child’s age.

  • Put some thought into finding your child’s ideal bedtime.  In the evening, look for the time when your child really is starting to slow down and getting physically tired. That's the time that they should be going to sleep, so get their bedtime routine done and get them into bed before that time. If you wait beyond that time, then your child tends to get a second wind.  At that point they will become more difficult to handle, and will have a harder time falling asleep.

  • Try to move their bed time earlier.  You will be surprised as to how easy it is for them to fall asleep sooner.  If they go to bed at 8:30, move it up to 8pm- which means starting their bed time routine at 7:30pm.  I know that for working parents, you want to spend a lot of time with them in the evenings so it's hard to put them down earlier.  But you will see a remarkable change in their behavior and a happier mood!

  • Keep to a regular daily routine—the same waking time, meal times, nap time and play times will help your baby to feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime.  Babies and children like to know what to expect.

  • Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your baby get to sleep wherever you may be.

  • Some babies are soothed by the sound of a vaporizer or fan running.  This "white noise" not only blocks out the distraction of other sounds, it also simulates the sounds babies hear in the womb. Small, portable white noise machines with a variety of different sounds are now available.

  • Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air.

  • Use light to your advantage.  Keep lights dim in the evening as bedtime approaches. Light helps signal the brain into the right sleep-wake cycle. We use black out shades to help our child take her daytime naps too, and not wake up too early in the morning.

How about you guys? How does your child act when they fight sleep or don't get enough?



  1. This is such good advice. After reading this, it opened my eyes to how much we misconstrue that 'second wind' etc. as the child not being tired. What you wrote makes so much sense. Thanks for the great advice!

  2. Sure, and it makes sense that most kids just don't know when they are tired. So they have no idea when they have that second wind and why.

  3. I am not a mom myself, but I had read in the Wall Street Journal last week about this issue. It said that studies show that two-thirds of kids in the year through middle-school are not getting adequate sleep which is 10 to 12 hours for the age range. A study done in 1999 showed that about 10% of school-age kids through fourth grade fell asleep in school, and some schools are now pushing back start times to allow students to get more sleep. It then went into details, like you did, about the consequences of children not getting adequate sleep. I learned from both the article and this post that it is crucial to start your child off with a proper sleep schedule as well as allowing the proper about of time for the to self-soothe. Older children who wake up in the middle of the night and never learned to self-soothe as babies, cannot fall back asleep without mom or dad. Thanks for the post! I can't speak from my own experience, but this is an issue that I now feel more prepared to handle someday.

  4. Lindsay, that is a great study you referenced from the Wall Street Journal! I think sleep is so important in children (and adults too). Hopefully parents will get the message and help their kids start getting more sleep.