Sleep difficulties and behavioral problems in children
Updated: Jul 31, 2022
A question that repeats many times, is whether the child not sleeping enough because of problematic behaviors especially around sleep, or is the child behaving in a problematic way because he is not sleeping enough. The answer is probably both. So a "vicious circle" is created here in which disturbed sleep leads to behavioral difficulties and they lead to disturbed sleep.
In an editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2015, Michelle M. Garrison described a longitudinal study of more than 32,000 Norwegian mothers and their children who were followed from birth to age 5: Children with sleep problems at age 18 months, which included short sleep duration (10 hours of sleep or less) or frequent night awakenings (three times a night or more) had more emotional and behavioral problems at age 5, compared to children with the same level of behavioral difficulties at baseline. The children with sleep problems encountered additional difficulties with their development.
When a child has problems with emotional regulation, among other things, difficulty can arise in maintaining sleep. His or her behavioral difficulties can be worsened by lack of sleep and so on.
It is important to remember, however, that there is great variation in the hours of sleep that each child needs, as well as the time at which the child can fall asleep. It is important that parents act according to these individual needs.
For example, we will not put a child to bed too early because of the thought that he "needs more hours of sleep". If we act like this, there can be negative consequences. That is, the child will not sleep, not because he has a problem but because we put him to bed too early. The other way around also can have negative results. If a child needs to sleep a certain number of hours and can fall asleep first, we will not allow him to stare at screens and delay bedtime.
It is important to pay attention to the child's performance during the day.
Is the child focused, nervous, does he/she has difficulty waking up, does he/she have trouble functioning at school. All the answers to these questions can indicate sleep difficulties and the need to make a change in the child's sleeping habits.
A child who suffers from lack of sleep or disturbed sleep will not necessarily look sleepy. This can also manifest as difficulty concentrating, irritability, extreme change in emotion, apathy, impulsivity, and physiological complaints such as headaches. These things can also lead to accidents and injuries while playing.
There are basic things that are important to keep in mind that can contribute to promoting sleep, such as sufficient exposure to light during the day, turning down screens such as the phone, computer, and television before going to bed, maintaining consistency while sleeping, and reducing the dependence on falling asleep in the presence of a parent.
Also promote actions that can lead to sleep such as reading. It is definitely possible to lead to improvement by taking care of these things and thereby also improving behavior.