As a parent, you’ve probably been craving sleep since the minute your first child was born. But did you ever stop to wonder if your children were getting enough shut-eye?
According to recent reports, chronic sleep deprivation is creeping downwards on the age scale, and it’s having negative effects on everything from children’s ability to learn to their behavior. In her latest book, Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep It Deserves, child development and education expert Mary Sheedy Kurcinka discusses how lack of sleep affects the whole family.
How much sleep do children need?
In the first year, infants need 14 to 18 hours out of 24. As a rule, think 10 hours at night and the remainder during daytime naps. Toddlers need 13 hours, and up to about 18 or 19 months, they should still be getting two naps a day and 10 hours at night. Many parents report that their preschoolers have stopped napping, but many probably still need at least a rest during the day. Statistics show that preschool-age children who go for 8 to 9 hours without a rest are 86 percent more likely than kids who do nap to end up in the emergency room.
What is the link between lack of sleep and a child’s behavior?
A young child who is chronically sleep-deprived has trouble managing his emotions. He might have an explosive temper, easily hurt feelings, or a lack of patience. He may be clumsy and accident-prone, and will also be more wired and frenzied in play. An overtired child in school may have trouble focusing and paying attention in class. He may become forgetful and make silly mistakes. He also may talk excessively and constantly bug you, siblings, and classmates — all of which are ways he is trying to stimulate himself and regain focus. In social situations, an overtired child might have more conflicts with other kids, or be bossy, demanding, and not open to guidance.
That sounds a lot like attention deficit disorder.
It does — and in fact, 20 to 25 percent of kids with ADD may also have a sleep disorder. This is not to say that all children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are actually just sleep-deprived, but it would be wise, when we see that sort of behavior, to look first at how much sleep that child gets. Improving sleep could in fact improve behavior, as well as focus and school performance.
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