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Sleep deprivation: Effects on children

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation

Sleep is an unconscious state of mind from which a person can be aroused. It is a dynamic process when the brain inhibits certain parts of the brain that makes a person asleep. In this restive state, the human body regenerates, repairs, rebuilds and also refreshes the brain. Sleep is known to aid the overall development of the body and the brain. Sleep requirement differs depending on the stage of life of a person. Babies need about 14-18 hours of sleep for the healthy development of the body. This requirement slowly decreases as the baby enters each stage of life – toddlerhood, kid, adolescent, adult and old age. School going children between the age of 3 and 5 years, require around 11-12 total hours of sleep including nap time. There is a growing trend of children sleeping less than previously. Lack of sleep or sleep debt has numerous effects on the children, physically and psychologically.


Physical Effects

Long-term sleep deprivation leads to a number of physical health issues.

1. Obesity

Children who do not get the required hours of sleep have greater chances of weight gain. It is not very clear why sleep debt poses increased risk to obesity. However, recent studies show that ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that influence a person’s appetite. Studies show that children sleeping for lesser number of hours show a greater percentage of ghrelin, which causes increased feelings of hunger. More the number of hours a child is awake, he/she spends more time in eating. This leads to unmindful eating leading to gain of unnecessary pounds.

2. Diabetes

Lack of sleep induces insulin resistance in the body that could cause diabetes in children. With insulin resistance, the cells fail to use the hormone properly. This leads to high levels of blood sugar, thus making the children diabetic. A child having diabetes is prone to have eyes, kidneys, nervous and cardiovascular problems.

3. Impaired immune system

Depriving the body not to heal and regenerate leads to impaired immune system. It is important for child to have a strong immune system which protects him/her from various illnesses, virus and host of infections. A good quality sleep helps the body to restore and helps release of growth hormones which are essential for the healthy development of children. Along with diet and relaxation, it is quite necessary that the body gets rest and give it a chance to recuperate for a better and stronger health.

Psychological Effects

Sleep debt causes problems related to memory, attention, concentration, behavior and emotional imbalance and other psychological problems. This leads to poor performance in school and affects their relationships at home as well as outside home. They display a range of schooling problems.

1. Lack of attention and concentration

With few hours of sleep, the brain, which is the center of learning, is unable to focus and lacks the energy to accomplish a task. This makes a kid yawn frequently, doze off in a class, unable to comprehend and fails to make logical decisions. Sleeping well makes the body to generate newer cells that aid in better memory, retention and learning. Children having less sleep hours are seen to have poor memory. It is necessary that children should start the day energetic and fresh for an optimal performance during the day.

2. Behavioral problems

Children have mood swings, depression, irritation, confusion, anxiety with less amount of sleep. There is an increased level of cortisol, the stress hormone leading to a number of behavioral problems. Studies show a corelation between sleep disorders and ADHD. Quality of sleep leads to inattentiveness, restlessness and difficulty in concentration, which are signs of ADHD. Lack of sleep also make them cranky, highly irritated, over-active, feel groggy in the morning, throw temper tantrums and have day time naps. Sleep-deprived children often display problems in controlling their impulse that leads to risk-taking behavior.

Help Your Child

  1. Establish a bedtime routine to encourage your child to go to sleep at a particular time. Create a soothing, pleasant sleeping environment to help your child sleep better.
  2. Diet and lifestyle are some of the great contributors for the quality of sleep that your child gets. Avoid giving sugary food or drinks, heavy meals few hours before your child gets to bed. Usage of television viewing, computer usage should be restricted.
  3. Relaxation techniques will help your child to fall asleep quickly.
  4. Your child may have trouble going to sleep due to nightmares, stress and anxiety. Talk to your child and allay his/her fears and let him/her know that you are there to help her/him.

Parents should give equal importance to the child’s healthy diet as well as quality of sleep for the overall development of the child. Discuss and inculcate a good sleeping pattern and the need to start fresh and energetic every day.

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