10 Ways Being Tired Hurts Children
First, the bad news: 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, and doctors say it’s rampant among modern kids. But there’s good news: Overtiredness can be prevented. The more you know about how it affects children, the better you’ll be able to spot it and stop this health saboteur in its tracks.
1. Tricky tots
Don’t assume that you know when your child is overtired. Kids who need sleep often appear anything but sleepy. That means your child’s late-night burst of energy is actually a sign of sleepiness, despite appearances to the contrary.
2. School struggles
Want your child to ace that big exam? Make sure he hits the sack early because sleepiness can sabotage school success. The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation in children is associated with poor school performance and lowered test scores.
3. Weighty matters
Chronic overtiredness can pack on the pounds and make it difficult for children to maintain a healthy weight. According to the journal Sleep, reduced REM sleep is associated with excess body weight in both kids and teens.
4. Diabetes danger
Kids who don’t sleep enough have an increased risk of diabetes. Multiple studies link insufficient sleep to increased diabetes risk, and new research published in the 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 & wired
It’s counterintuitive, but overtiredness makes sleep more difficult. 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 over- balance of adrenaline makes it difficult for them to reach and maintain deep, restorative sleep.
See page 2 for five more ways overtiredness can harm children.
6. ADHD imposter
Overtiredness can masquerade as a host of ADHD-like symptoms and even lead to what researchers call “faux ADHD,” or misdiagnosed ADHD. According to a recent study, faux ADHD can present as behavior problems, violence and learning difficulties.
7. Emotional exhaustion
New research links overtiredness brought on by missed naps to mood disorders in toddlers. According to a new study, toddlers who miss naps have trouble expressing emotions, which has a lasting effect on their developing brains.
8. Night frights
Helping your child get adequate sleep can help protect her against things that go bump in the night. 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 the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, this disorder affects 1.5 million children and adolescents and contributes to disrupted sleep as well as fatigue and depression.
10. Early birds
If your little rooster wakes at 5am, overtiredness could be to blame. Overtiredness is a common reason for waking up too early in the morning. When overtired children reach the naturally occurring phase of lighter sleep in the pre-dawn hours (from around 4am to 6am), many wake up and stay awake, instead of rolling over and falling back to sleep.
The best prevention for overtiredness is also the best cure — an age-appropriate bedtime and a solid bedtime routine. According to doctors, parents can prevent the health havoc overtiredness can cause by prioritizing their child’s sleep needs. An extra half-hour of sleep is more important than another extracurricular activity, television show or round of video games. It’s a small price to pay for a calmer, happier, healthier child.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep journalist and mom. She blogs about sleep and parenting at www.thewellrestedfamily.com.
See page 3 for expert advice on sleep aids for children.