© Mohamed Osama | Dreamstime.com
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 problem? Chronic overtiredness — doctors say it’s rampant among kids today. “Many children are notoriously sleep-deprived,” says Stephen Grant, MD, sleep specialist with Iowa Sleep Centers.
The good news is that overtiredness is preventable. The more you know about how this affects your child, the better you’ll be able to spot it and take action.
Surprise 1: Hyperactive tots
Don’t assume you know when your child is overtired — kids who need sleep often appear anything but sleepy. Detecting overtiredness can be tricky, says Maida Chen, MD, associate director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Parents should remember overtiredness can look like hyperactivity,” she says. That means your child’s late-night burst of energy is actually a sign of sleepiness, despite appearances to the contrary.
Surprise 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.
Surprise 3: Weight issues
Chronic overtiredness can pack on the pounds and make it difficult for children to maintain a healthy weight. Research from Warwick Medical School 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.
Surprise 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 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that just one night of sleep deprivation can bring on insulin resistance, a factor in Type 2 diabetes.
Surprise 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 presumably 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.
Surprise 6: ADHD imposter
Overtiredness can masquerade in a host of ADHD-like symptoms, and even lead to misdiagnosed ADHD. According to a recent study, faux ADHD is characterized by behavior problems, violence, and learning difficulties. Further, it’s linked to poor bedtime habits and too little sleep.
Surprise 7: Emotional exhaustion
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 may have a lasting effect on their developing brains.
Surprise 8: Night frights
Enabling your child to get adequate sleep can protect him or her against things that go bump in the night. Kids who are overtired are more prone to nightmares. Doctors chalk this up to children spending more time transitioning in and out of deep sleep when overtired.
Surprise 9: Fidgety legs
Overtiredness worsens the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. According to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, RLS affects 1.5 million children and teens. It also contributes to disrupted sleep, fatigue, and depression.
Surprise 10: Early risers
If your little rooster is up at 5 in the morning, overtiredness may be the culprit. Exhaustion is a common cause for waking too early, when we reach the naturally occurring phase of lighter sleep in the pre-dawn hours (between 4 and 6 a.m.). Many kids 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 over-tiredness can cause by prioritizing their child’s sleep needs. An extra half-hour of sleep is more important than another extracurricular class, television show, or round of video games. And it’s a small price to pay for a calmer, happier, healthier child.
— Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep journalist and mom. Her most recent book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, and Tirades. Read more at thewellrestedfamily.com.