Lack of Sleep is Linked to Increased Behavior Problems

sleep problems linked to behavior issues
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When kids exhibit ongoing behavior problems, frustrated parents often begin to wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” But sometimes, the problem has little to do with a lack of discipline. Research shows that many child behavior problems result from kids getting too little sleep.

Sleep Time and Behavior Problems

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, found that 4 year olds with shorter sleep times exhibit increased behavior problems.

Researchers discovered that preschool children who were getting less than 9.75 hours of sleep exhibited more behavior problems than the children who slept 10.5 hours per night. The children getting less sleep received higher parent-reports of overactivity, aggression, anger, impulsivity, temper tantrums, and annoying behaviors.

Even after adjusting for other factors, children with the shortest amounts of sleep were shown to exhibit significantly worse behavior problems. In fact, children with fewer hours of sleep were 80% more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Kids who aren’t getting enough sleep may train themselves to stay up late or wake up repeatedly. If you struggle to keep your child in bed – and asleep – for a healthy amount of time, these strategies can increase your child’s sleep time and potentially decrease behavior problems:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule – Keep your child’s sleep schedule the same, regardless of whether it’s a weekend, week day or a vacation. Try to establish a consistent wake time as well, to avoid disrupting your child’s routine on the following day. A regular routine can help your child's body begin to recognize when it's time to sleep.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for exercise – Incorporate physical activity into your child’s daily routine every single day. Daily exercise will help ensure your child's body is tired enough for sleep in the evenings.
  • Don’t allow your child to consume caffeine – Prevent your child from drinking caffeinated beverages, like soda. Also, be aware of foods that can contain caffeine – like chocolate. Kids can be very sensitive to caffeine and it can interrupt their ability to fall asleep at night.
  • Create a regular bedtime routine – Begin winding down about an hour before bedtime. Prevent your child from watching TV, playing video games, or using any electronics during the hour before he's going to bed because the light from screens can interfere with melatonin production, which is essential to helping a child fall asleep. Read books or allow your child to play a quiet game. Bath time may also be helpful in getting your child ready to go to sleep.
  • Make the bedroom a calming place – To promote the best sleep, make sure your child’s room is a quiet and dark place. Avoid keeping the TV or a radio on all night because these can interfere with your child’s ability to get high quality sleep.

Seek help when necessary

If your child struggles to fall asleep - and stay asleep - there may be underlying issues interfering with his rest. Sometimes, night terrors or nightmares may interfere with a child’s ability to sleep. At other times, physical health issues, like sleep apnea can be problematic. And for other children, bedwetting may be an issue that interferes with sleep.

If your child experiences specific problems, or you are struggling to ensure your child is getting enough sleep, talk to his pediatrician.

If your child exhibits behavior problems and you're concerned that those issues could be linked to a lack of sleep, it's also important to seek professional help.

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