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The dangers of sleep deprivation in kids

Raising kids comes with its fair share of sleepless nights. But when our children are the ones who are tossing and turning at night, the consequences to those ever-growing bodies and rapidly developing brains, can be dire.

Raising kids comes with its fair share of sleepless nights. But when our children are the ones who are tossing and turning at night, the consequences to those ever-growing bodies and rapidly developing brains, can be dire.

As parents, it’s crucial that we’re clued-up on how sleep deprivation affects our children. Are we fully aware of the role restorative sleep plays in their physical and emotional health? How well informed are we about how much sleep a preschooler, or a teenager, really needs?

We took a hard look at the dangerous side-effects of sleep deprivation in children, what’s likely to cause these sleep troubles in the first place, and how simply sleeping under a weighted blanket can help curb this growing health concern.

kid sleeping with mother

Six risks of childhood sleep deprivation


Research found that children who regularly don’t get enough rest, are at a much greater risk for mental and physical problems. Here are six dangers that sleep deprived children face:

1. Poor self-control and moodiness
Studies indicate that a lack of sleep goes hand-in-hand with a lack of self-control. A tired child struggles to regulate emotion. Impulsivity, increased aggression, and a testy temperament are all possible indicators that a kiddo isn’t getting enough good quality sleep.

2. Increased propensity to obesity
A chronic loss of sleep is a key contributing factor in the increase in child obesity. Did you know that the hormone imbalance that sleep deprivation creates, makes youngsters (and adults) constantly crave high-fat foods? There’s also a growing body of research suggesting that too little sleep can be detrimental to metabolism. Food for thought?!

3. Cognitive impairment
Research studies have shown that sleep has an unmistakable impact on children's cognitive development. Restorative sleep is nothing short of crucial to ensure the normal, healthy development of a child’s central nervous system.

4. Stunted growth
Children experience rapid physical growth. As parents, we see this over and over again as we sort through their closets to get rid of the clothes that they’ve, yet again, outgrown.

Stunted growth is an enormous concern when considering the risks of childhood sleep deprivation: sleep plays a pivotal role in helping a child’s body keep up.

5. Inability to concentrate and possibly even ADHD
Children who regularly undersleep are at great risk for developing difficulties when it comes to concentrating, hindering especially their academic progress.

Decreased attention span due to sleep deprivation makes staying on-task during lessons or getting homework done, extremely difficult. It’s also suggested that chronic inadequate sleep might be contributing to the rise in the amount of ADHD diagnoses.

6. Triggers for mental illness
It’s not uncommon for mental illness - especially conditions a child is predisposed to inherent - to surface during the teenage years. Sleep deprivation has been known to trigger the onset of a variety of mental health problems, specifically adolescent depression.

These sleep related risks that young people are facing, are on the rise. It’s an unsettling trend that raises the importance of instilling healthy sleep habits in the younger generation.

But if we, an adult society that’s pretty sleep-deprived itself, intend to steer sleep trends towards a healthier place, we’ll have to put this awareness into action. What can we do to help our kids do better at sleep than us?

Before we get to how our kids can score some A+ sleep, let’s first consider why they’re failing to get a good night’s rest in the first place.


What’s behind this sleepless trend?


There are a myriad of things that can stand in a child’s way of getting quality sleep. Here are are three important, common contributors to sleep deprivation:

Excessive screen time
Screen time is inescapably part of a 21st-century child’s life. Either on a smartphone scrolling through social media, a tablet taking on the form of a textbook, a computer doing homework, or on a television watching good old Netflix (or giving hard-pressed parents a much-needed break), screen time will inevitably take up large parts of a child’s day.

The troubling reality of excessive screen time is that it exposes our children to significant amounts of blue light. Light emitted from electronic devices doesn’t look blue; blue light refers to the blue wavelength on the artificial light spectrum and, in fact, the same wavelength our bodies connect with waking up.

Blue light is a known enemy to the brain’s production of our most important sleep hormone, melatonin. Low melatonin is often the cause of sleep struggles in children (and grownups, too!) and it’s inexplicably linked to the pervasiveness of screen time.


Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are more prevalent among our youth than ever before. A fast-paced, filled-to-the-brim, achievement-oriented lifestyle has become the norm and it’s taking its toll on our youngsters. Not to mention they’re dealing with the effects of peer pressure and a susceptibility to anxiety over social media status.

High stress levels and persistent anxiety are leading causes of sleep deprivation. In turn, sleep deprivation tends to aggravate existing stress and anxiety. Our children are all too often stressed or anxious (or both!), leading them to lack quality sleep, and then left feeling more stressed because of it.

This problematic cycle is turning childhood into a miserable mission, as opposed to the adventurous expedition it actually is.

We’re looking at teenage angst all wrong
Hormonal shifts surely make for increased moodiness during adolescence but it also gives rise to significant shifts in their sleep needs and internal body clocks.

Simply chalking up teenage angst to the hormonal changes associated with this phase of childhood is ill-advised. It leaves little space for helping them cope with the profound side-effects that the natural changes in their sleep needs are causing.

Parenting teenagers is no easy feat but keeping in mind the havoc that sleep deprivation wreaks, proves helpful. Rethinking the reasons behind typical teenage behaviours led to research that suggested later school starting times, as a workable solution for improving academic achievement in sleepy teenagers.


How a weighted blanket helps kids sleep better


Thankfully, there are simpler sleep fixes then having to rally up against the district board about school timings. A painless, practical pro-sleep parenting tip? Get your kid a weighted blanket.

Naturally more melatonin
Recall the melatonin monologue earlier on? Well, when it comes to our bodies making melatonin, weighted blankets - specifically our Nappers - are all the rage. The added pressure that’s evenly distributed over your child’s body when they sleep under a weighted blanket, activates the principles of deep touch pressure therapy (DTP). DTP is proven to increase the body’s natural production of melatonin.

A side note on screen time: another way to help your child maintain their melatonin is by encouraging device-free dinner times. Taking regular breaks from our tech, especially near bedtime, is hugely beneficial for that sleep-inducing hormone.

If your kid is really struggling to fall asleep, a natural solution is opting for a screen-free evening followed by tucking them in under a Napper. It’s a combo that can turn your child’s brain into a marvelous melatonin-making machine; helping that growing mind get the rest it really needs.

More serotonin means more smiling
Serotonin is known as our happy hormone, and enough of it is an important precursor for melatonin. Similar to the way sleeping under weight applies DTP principles to increase melatonin, it also keeps our kids’ serotonin levels up.

In parenting terms, a weighted blanket is to serotonin what Baby Shark is to preschoolers: they never get tired of it!

It’s not only kindergarteners who can benefit from feeling more upbeat because they’re getting better rest. The increased serotonin release that a Napper brings about, is a super-soother for troubling teenage angst too. A weighted blanket is a surefire way to help ease the hormonal shifts that are synonymous with the adolescent years.

Even if your child is a little too old to be swayed or sung to sleep, night-time parenting a young adult can be as simple as making sure that when their bedtime rolls around, they’ve got a Napper at hand.

kid with nappling

Putting it all to bed


The sleep habits we pick up in our youth, often carry over into adulthood. Perhaps the best way to set our children up for success, is putting their sleep deprivation to bed, once and for all.


Bearassentials

• Childhood sleep deprivation holds significant risks. Moodiness, obesity, cognitive issues, slowed growth, propensity towards ADHD and weak academic progress are just some of the dangers.


• Contributing to this alarming anti-sleep trend is excessive screen time, stress and anxiety. Society’s dated outlook on adolescence makes matters even worse.


• A simple safeguard against sleep related dangers is for kids to sleep under a weighted blanket. It’s a natural way to improve the quality of their sleep and encourages better bedtime habits too.

Did you know?
Almost 70% of teenagers live on the border of what is labeled as severe sleep debt.


THE LAY LOW

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