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10 dangers that overtired kids face

Your seemingly healthy child may be harboring a serious health problem. Left unchecked, this highly common condition can contribute to weight gain and hinder school success. When your child is irritable, inattentive, or sullen, this often-overlooked ailment may be to blame.

The condition is chronic overtiredness. “Today’s children are notoriously sleep-deprived,” says sleep specialist Stephen Grant, MD.

Overtiredness is as preventable as it is pervasive. The more you know about how overtiredness affects children, the better you’ll be able to spot it — and stop this health saboteur in its tracks.  Here are ten facts about overtiredness.

1. Tricky tots

Kids who need sleep often appear anything but sleepy. “Overtiredness can look like hyperactivity,” notes pediatric sleep specialist Maida Chen, MD. That means your child’s late-night burst of energy could actually be a sign of sleepiness.

Overtiredness remedies

The best cures for overtiredness are an age-appropriate bedtime and a solid bedtime routine.

Recommended hours of sleep:
1-4 weeks old: 15-16 hours
1-12 months: 14-15 hours
1-3 years: 12-14 hours
3-6 years: 10-12 hours
7-12 years: 10-11 hours
13-18 years: 8-9 hours

2. School struggles

The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation in children is associated with poor school performance and lowered test scores.

3. Weighty matters

Research shows that sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity two-fold in children and adults. According to the journal Sleep, reduced REM sleep is associated with excess body weight in both kids and teens.  

4. Diabetes danger

Multiple studies link insufficient sleep to increased diabetes risk, and new research published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that just one night of sleep deprivation can bring on insulin resistance, a factor in type 2 diabetes.

5. Too tired, too wired

It’s counterintuitive, but overtiredness makes sleep more difficult — so depriving kids of naps or encouraging too-late bedtimes to help kids sleep better at night often backfires. When kids are awake too long, an overbalance of adrenaline makes it difficult to reach and maintain deep, restorative sleep.

6. ADHD imposter

Overtiredness can masquerade in a host of ADHD-like symptoms, and even lead to what researchers call “faux ADHD,” or misdiagnosed ADHD. Faux ADHD is characterized by behavior problems, violence and learning difficulties.

7. Emotionally exhausted

New research links overtiredness brought on by missed naps to mood disorders in toddlers. Toddlers who miss naps have trouble expressing emotions, which has a lasting effect on their developing brains.

8. Night frights

Kids who are overtired are more prone to nightmares — doctors chalk this up to the fact that overtired children spend more time transitioning in and out of deep sleep.

9. Fidgety legs

Overtiredness worsens the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. According to adolescents and contributes to disrupted sleep, fatigue, and depression.

10. Early birds.

When overtired children reach the naturally-occurring phase of lighter sleep  (from around 4-6am), many wake up and stay awake instead of rolling over and falling back to sleep. 

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mom of two. She blogs about sleep and parenting at Thewellrestedfamily.com

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