It is general knowledge that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on a person’s wellbeing, but the effects of sleep deprivation go beyond negative health issues for young children. Preschoolers and young children who do not get an adequate amount of sleep every night can have difficulty functioning during daytime activities and experience symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which includes being easily frustrated and not being able to regulate their self-control. One of the primary goals in early learning programs is to ready the children for kindergarten, which requires children to be able to control their own body’s impulses. When children lack self-regulation in kindergarten, it is more difficult for them to have a successful day. In addition to classroom behavior, one of the most problematic health issues facing kids who are sleep deprived is obesity.
Various studies have been conducted to prove the link between lack of sleep and the growing rate of obesity in young children. An experiment created by the European Society of Endocrinology looked to test different age groups of children starting in the year 1971 through 2004. Over this decades-long experiment, the rates of obesity nearly tripled amongst children. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused this up rise in obesity rates, but sleep deprivation was found to be a significant factor, in addition to a poor diet and a lack of daily exercise. According to their study, sleep curtailment may affect energy balance and result in weight gain via three distinct pathways: upregulation of appetite, more time to eat, and/or a decrease in energy expenditure. The study goes on to say that weight gain can turn into an insulin resistance, which can cause even more weight gain. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. The lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes.
With lack of sleep also comes disturbed stages of sleep, including non-rapid eye movement. Not having enough deep REM sleep can also affect insulin sensitivities. Research has shown the effects of short-term sleep deprivation has on children, and long-term studies are currently being conducted. It’s thought that the long-term effects on children could be physical brain damage and depression, but evidence is still being gathered on this topic. It’s important for parents to understand the need for their kids to get enough sleep, and to set a routine so that amount can be met nightly.
As children age, their bedtimes seem to extend later and later, but that does not mean they need less sleep. Pediatricians recommend that one-to-two-year-olds get eleven to fourteen hours of sleep per night, preschoolers aged three to five should get ten to thirteen hours of sleep, and school-aged children should get nine to eleven hours of sleep every night. It is important to keep reminding parents of these recommendations, so they can ensure their child gets enough sleep. School performance can also be negatively affected by sleep deprivation. When a child doesn’t get an adequate amount of sleep, their brain activity shifts, potentially damaging some of the areas of cognitive functions like spatial reasoning and attention span.
A requirement even more crucial than knowing all the letters of the alphabet for incoming kindergartners is for them to be able to sit calmly and have control over their body and its impulses. If they have difficulty with this because of sleep deprivation, then they will start to fall behind and can be put in a position where they are reprimanded for their bad behavior. But their lack of impulse control is not intentional- they can’t control what happens to their body if they don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can also affect how a child processes new information taught to them during school.
Tired children work at a slower pace because at times it can be difficult for them to remember what the teacher just explained to the class or what they just read. Their brains have a harder time focusing, and they can get confused with the information they hold in both their short term and long-term memories. When kids are sleep-deprived their brains can produce patterns that resemble sleeping, which in turn, makes tired kids space out during the day. Pediatricians point out that children have immune systems that are still developing and being sleep deprived doesn’t do their bodies any good.
Not getting enough sleep decreases the blood cells that help fight infections and increasing the types of blood cells that create inflammation. Because of this, their bodies won’t be able to fight off colds or infections as easily if they get sick. It will be harder for their body’s immune system to get rid of an infection. A tired body has a weakened ability to fight off impending illnesses, making sleep deprived children more likely to get sick or stay sick for a longer period of time. Consistently completing all the stages of sleep are crucial for a child to develop normally. Each stage of sleep is important for relaxing the body and giving it a chance to recover from the day’s activities. Even naps during the day are beneficial to a young child.
After a successful nap time, a child’s brain is recharged and they’re able to be more alert and readier for the rest of the day’s schedule. Keeping naps in-sync with the child’s natural biological rhythms is crucial for the nap to be successful. Daytime sleep is different from nighttime sleep, but just as important for growing kids. The stages of sleep during the daytime include all five stages that are completed at night, just in shorter, more rapidly-paced segments. Still, during this time, the body is able to re-energize, and the child will be much more alert and ready to complete the day’s activities.
The proof that sleep deprivation is detrimental to children’s development is abundant, and it is important for parents to be aware of this critical situation that does not seem to be getting any better. Studies have shown that up to seventy percent of children aged six through seventeen are not getting enough sleep per night. For older kids and teenagers, there issocial media and a mountain of homework to distract them at night and prevent them from getting enough sleep.
Elementary school-aged kids can also have later bedtimes because their parents aren’t strict about setting an early bedtime each night, or because they get distracted with video games or electronic devices. Even toddlers and preschoolers can have a delayed bedtime because of improperly timed or lengthy daytime naps. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that kids of all ages get an adequate amount of sleep, so they have the best chance of having a successful day, week, and beyond.
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