Sleep deprivation can have a number of profound effects on a child’s mental, physical and emotional health. It can also significantly impact on youngster’s behaviour during the day. A child who is sleep deprived is unlikely to be able to meet their full potential yet sleep problems are often not considered during assessment.
Prior to my role at ‘The Children’s Sleep Charity’ I spent 18 years working in education, largely as an early years teacher. It was only during the final years of my teaching career that I started to recognise and acknowledge the impact that sleep deprivation was having on children’s behaviour during the day. My real interest in sleep came about as a result of experiencing sleep problems with one of my own children. Sleep suddenly became my new obsession and I learned as much as possible in a bid to get some shut eye back into both our lives.
The last decade has seen me supporting thousands of families across England and Wales with sleep issues. Perhaps the most startling piece of information that I came across at the time was the fact that sleep deprived children often present with daytime hyperactivity. One recurrent theme tends to be that parents inform sleep practitioners that the children appear to simply ‘not need sleep’. Unfortunately many parents then abandon trying to establish a bedtime routine which exacerbates the problem further. Sleep restriction may lead to ADHD type symptoms, these do however tend to resolve once sleep patterns are improved.
Sleep deprivation also affects mood that in turn can impact on behaviour. We know as adults that if we don’t have enough sleep we can feel somewhat grumpy. Children in the early years are more likely to be irritable if they aren’t well rested. They can also find it even more difficult to control their emotions resulting in increased frequency of tantrums than may be expected.
There are a number of key signs to look out for including taking long naps, clumsiness, increased appetite, hyperactivity, poor concentration, unusually emotional, difficulty falling asleep due to being overtired, physical appearance.
Simple changes can go a long way to supporting families to get a better night’s sleep. It is key that families have access to appropriate information about sleep. Many parents believe for example that knocking the day time nap off will help their little one sleep better at night time. This of course is not true, a day time nap can actually be hugely beneficial and help a child to fall asleep more easily at night time. Becoming over tired can increase the hyperactive behaviour making it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
A good sleep routine is also of course vital in supporting a child to fall asleep more easily. An hour’s planned routine ahead of sleep time can help the child to unwind and avoid stimulation. Screen activity such as television or iPads are particularly to be avoided as they can supress the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleep in the evening.
As early years professionals it is important to recognise the impact that tiredness can have on a youngster’s daytime behaviour patterns. Sleep deprivation is unpleasant for both the child and their families. The fact that it also impacts on behaviour, health and cognition is also incredibly concerning. The good news however is that with the right information and support the vast majority of children’s sleep problems can be improved within a few weeks.Sleep support for families is vitally important to ensure that not only the child can meet their full potential but so can the parents.
About the author
Vicki Dawson is CEO of The Children’s Sleep Charity. She has worked in education since the late 1990s when she qualified as an early years teacher. In 2015 Vicki resigned from teaching to concentrate her efforts on supporting families of children with sleep issues. She has been offering support for over a decade now and is passionate about helping children and their families meet their full potential. Vicki has co-written 12 books and regularly writes in the national media.
And so to bed...
You can download a copy of the poster that PACEY and The Children's Sleep Charity have created together, And so to bed... Free to PACEY members, the poster costs just £1.00 to non-members and may be downloaded to print on your own printer.