Children and adolescents who have trouble sleeping or getting up in the morning are more likely to face problems with cognitive functioning and peer-relationship.

Sleep problems in babies and children are becoming increasingly common, affecting 20-30% of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and 75% of children with neurological disorders. Left untreated, sleep disorders can become chronic.

Below we’ll discuss the consequences of insufficient and disruptive sleep on babies and children and its leading causes:

What is Insufficient Sleep?

Insufficient sleep, or sleep deprivation, is the inability to get enough sleep at night, leading to numerous brain development, learning, physical health, and emotional problems.

On the contrary, sufficient sleep means your child enjoys a refreshing sleep and wakes up happy and energetic. Typically, the amount of recommended sleep varies as follows as your child grows:

  • For Infants (4 to 12 months) - 12 to 16 hours
  • For Children (1 to 2 years) - 11 to 14 hours
  • For Pre-schoolers (3 to 5 years) - 10 to 13 hours
  • For School-Aged Children (6 to 12 years) - 9 to 12 hours
  • For Teenagers - 13 to 18 hours

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What Causes Insufficient Sleep in Babies and Children?

Babies and children may experience inadequate sleep due to several reasons, including:

Medical Conditions

A breathing disorder or medical condition, like obstructive sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), and acid reflux, can contribute to disruptive sleep.

Research shows obstructive sleep apnea affects 1.2 to 5.7% of children and teens. Another study shows that 10 to 25% of children between 3 to 12 have some form of sleep-disordered breathing.

Mental or Psychiatric Factors

Emotional factors, including stress, depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, can cause sleep deprivation in children. Children with ADHD, autism, or substance abuse may struggle to maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle.

Moreover, children who undergo severe physical or mental trauma may experience post traumatic stress disorder, hurting their rest time. Frequent night awakenings and night terrors in babies and children may also cause sleeping problems.

How Do You Know If Babies and Children Are Not Getting Enough Sleep?

Paediatricians and parents typically notice the following signs and symptoms in babies and children with sleeping problems:

  • Becoming more clingy and accident-prone
  • Decreased social skills
  • Falling asleep during short rides
  • Fatigue
  • Feeding troubles
  • Fluttering eyelids and yawning
  • Hand-to-face gestures like pulling ears
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • Low energy during the day and more energetic during nighttime
  • Poor mood regulation, i.e., appearing moodier
  • Problems paying attention
  • Taking naps after the napping age (after five years old)
  • Trouble getting out of bed

The Effects of Insufficient Sleep on Babies and Children

Sleep deprivation in babies and toddler can cause cognitive and chronic health problems. Let’s discuss these in detail:

Stunts Growth and Development

Research shows that children who struggle with sleeping problems during their preschool and early school-age years are at a higher risk of reduced neurobehavioral function.

Healthy sleep allows babies and children to wake refreshed, regulate emotions, consolidate memories, and learn. Our body releases hormones to encourage muscle, cell, and tissue repair during sleep.

However, insufficient sleep can inhibit this process, hurting your child’s mental and physical well-being. It can also put your baby at a higher risk of risk behavioural and cognitive functioning problems.

Impacts Mental Health

An insightful study comprising Head Start children aged five or fewer showed that insufficient sleep could cause behavioural and mood problems. Disrupted sleep led to aggression, hyperactivity, and cognitive impairment in receptive language and problem-solving.

Having an irregular sleep cycle also increases the risk of withdrawing and decreases scores on social skills. Furthermore, since the frontal lobe of children and adolescents is developing, chronic sleep deprivation can cause impairment.

As a result, insufficient sleep can delay decision-making processes, shortens attention span, and decreases memory function. Additionally, sleep-deprived kids are prone to behavioural, academic, and health problems and risk-taking behaviours.

Harms Physical Health

Increasing evidence suggests insufficient sleep can lead to chronic health problems like obesity.

According to a study published in Academic Pediatrics, poor sleep can impact impulsivity and inhibition, among other behaviours. It leads to excess calorie consumption, causing chronic diseases.

Furthermore, when we sleep, our immune system promotes infection-fighting cell production. But sleep deprivation can deteriorate your baby and children’s immune system. In addition, lack of sleep can impair your immune response. 

As a result, lack of sleep can make babies and children more susceptible to contracting infections and getting sick.

Fewer Sleep Arousals

Arousal from sleep is a crucial defence mechanism against dangerous conditions in babies. Sleep deprivation in babies can increase nap duration and require an intense auditory stimulus to rouse them.

According to research, insufficient sleep due to handling conditions, respiratory issues, digestive conditions, fever, or airway obstructions showed a positive correlation with arousal thresholds. In addition, it can cause ventilatory impairment and decreases arousal responses to chemical stimulation.

These factors can contribute to obstructive apnea and enhance the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Long-Term Impacts of Sleep Deprivation in Infants

Multiple studies reveal that sleep deprivation in babies can lead to cognitive, behavioural, and physical health problems in further stages of life.

Insightful research showed that insufficient sleep in 3 to 24 months babies led to inattentiveness and hyperactivity at age five. Another study indicates that sleep deprivation and insomnia during early childhood can cause symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

In addition, an in-depth study by the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development showcases how insufficient sleep can lead to less gray matter growth, thus harming children’s attention, memory, and inhibition skills. Professionals also noted that the pattern continued for up to two years.

The Bottom Line

The dangers of insufficient sleep go beyond fluttering eyelids and yawning. It can also affect their academic performance, attentiveness, hyperactivity, and cognitive health.

A consistent routine and waking schedule are critical to promoting a healthy sleep schedule. Babies and young children brushing their teeth, tucking in a comfy blanket like an EMF Protection Blanket, and reading a book can help them fall asleep faster.


Sleep Disorders in Childhood Neurological Diseases

Sleep-disordered breathing in children: are we underestimating the problem?

The sleeping patterns of Head Start children and the influence on developmental outcomes

Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children