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How Do Kids’ Sleeping Habits Affect their Health?

Posted on Mar 09, 2020

This is Sleep Awareness Week, a time to help to raise awareness about how better sleep promotes better health. Every year, the National Sleep Foundation releases the results of its “Sleep in America” poll. Last year, the poll found that people who had consistent bedtimes had better sleep. 

On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Luis Ortiz, M.D., a sleep medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, discusses why healthy sleeping habits are important for children and teens.

Why is sleep so important – how can it affect quality of life for our kids?

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It's forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Whether you're learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

In 2006, the National Sleep Foundation looked at sleep in teens. They found that only 20% of adolescents were getting an optimal amount of sleep. Adolescents who get insufficient sleep on school nights were more likely to experience feeling too tired or sleepy, being cranky or irritable, falling asleep in school, having a depressed mood and drinking caffeinated beverages. 

Other studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide and risk-taking behavior.

Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, and they may get lower grades and feel stressed.

What are signs and symptoms that our son or daughter might not be sleeping well?

One important thing to note is that your child should not be sleepy! Believe it or not, if you or your child is getting adequate quality sleep at night you should not be sleepy during the day. While napping can be normal for kids, it should be a very rare event beyond age 5-6. Additionally, kids shouldn’t need caffeine.

However, sleepiness is frequently not seen. This is especially true in younger children where we see behavioral manifestations that can look a lot like ADHD. These symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, or increased impulsiveness. Symptoms of anxiety and depression can also be seen, but may be more obvious in adolescents.

What are the most common disorders you see or treat in pediatrics?

Insufficient sleep is one of the more common disorders that I see in pediatrics. This is typically due to a behavioral/social reason leading to not getting to bed on time. Obstructive sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder that I treat. Occasionally, I may see other disorders such as narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia.

When is it time to see a sleep physician to potentially have a sleep study?

Potentially, anytime a child is persistently having problems going to sleep, staying asleep, or is sleeping at times that they shouldn’t.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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