How Bullying Impacts Sleep

School bullying can affect the sleep habits of students.

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Bullying often extends well beyond the school building. In fact, bullies and victims of bullying alike can have sleep problems once they get home. Even bystanders who only witness bullying at school can be impacted by the trauma and have trouble sleeping.

How Bullying Impacts a Bully’s Sleep

Researchers have discovered that bullying other people and sleep issues are connected. In fact, multiple studies have shown that aggressive kids are more likely to have ​sleep-disordered breathing than their non-aggressive counterparts.

Sleep disordered breathing encompasses a variety of sleep disturbances in children and includes everything from snoring to sleep apnea.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School found that bullies are twice as likely to have sleep problems as those their age that do not bully others. But which comes first? Do kids bully because they don’t sleep well at night? Or, do they not sleep well because they are bullying others during the day?

Some sleep specialists feel that sleepiness is the biggest indicator of behavioral problems. Combine this with other risk factors for bullying, such as family issues, and it becomes clear why sleep is an issue for bullies. They further argue that sleepiness is related to impaired emotional regulation, which could explain why kids are bullying others. Often, bullies simply aren’t getting enough rest, which not only makes them irritable, but it also makes it harder for them to make good choices about how to treat people.

But bullying advocates argue that lack of sleep should not be an excuse for bullying other people. Instead, this information could be used to help prevent bullying. In other words, when working with parents to address bullying issues, educators and counselors may want to discuss the bully’s sleep habits.

Perhaps getting more sleep would help them in learning how to refrain from bullying other kids. But it should never be used to excuse their choices.

How Bullying Impacts a Victim’s Sleep

It’s no secret that when kids are bullied, they experience a wide range of physical and emotional consequences. From depression and anxiety to eating disorders and thoughts of suicide, the costs of bullying to the victim are extensive. As a result, it is not surprising then that many victims of bullying also have trouble sleeping. They may experience everything from restless nights to nightmares in which they relive the trauma.

Additionally, if the victim is dealing with depression or has developed PTSD, their sleep will be impacted as well. For instance, depression and insomnia are often related. And when it comes to PTSD, one of the hallmarks of this condition is reliving the trauma through nightmares.

How Bullying Impacts a Bystander’s Sleep

Even though bystanders are not directly impacted by bullying, simply witnessing another person being intimidated or humiliated can impact their physical and emotional health.

In fact, research has shown that bystanders often suffer just as many consequences from bullying as victims do.

As a result, their nightly sleep also can be affected. They may experience nightmares where they relive the situation they witnessed. Or, they may be plagued by the fact that they couldn’t do anything to stop the bullying. So they spend the night tossing and turning because they feel helpless and guilty.

Lastly, the bullying they are witnessing could be a sign of an overall poor environment at the school. Consequently, the stressors from this poor academic environment could be keeping them up at night.

Whatever the reason, it is important to realize that bullying affects everyone at the school. It is not just limited to the bully and the victim. The entire climate of the school is impacted by a bullying incident.

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