Childhood sleep deprivation – breaking the cycle

Childhood sleep deprivation – breaking the cycle

Childhood sleep deprivation is something more and more children are experiencing. It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to emotional and behavioural issues. But an understanding of the issue and some basic behavioural changes can be key to breaking the cycle.

Sleep is still a relatively new field compared to other health initiatives, but research suggests it could be the single most important factor in determining how long we live. This is over diet, exercise and hereditary. In other words, sleep, or the lack of it, is a big deal.

Lack of sleep is no longer a badge of honour

With parenting comes an expectation of sleep deprivation. There are a million memes on social media to remind us of this. And it is true to a certain extent. When you bring your new baby home, you do have to wake frequently throughout the night for feeds. And those night feeds can play havoc with our adult body clocks.

But past a certain point, babies should start consolidating their night sleep into longer stretches and drop night feeds. Sleep is important for growth and development, and good consolidated night sleep is vital. If sleep is not going well everyone suffers.

Children need a lot of night sleep. Much more than the 7 – 9 hrs recommended for adults. And if you are frequently getting up to your child at night, or they are having difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, chances are you’re starting to feel exhausted. And if you are experiencing sleep deprivation, there is a very strong likelihood that your child is also feeling its effects. But it’s not always as easy to spot.

Overtired is the enemy of sleep

Overtired is the enemy of sleep. When children are overtired, they present very differently to an adult in the same state. Adults struggling with lack of sleep act slow and sluggish during the day. But an overtired child will become hyperactive and “wired”. Indeed, sleep deprivation in children mimics the symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder). You can see more silliness, excessive energy and emotional outbursts, especially in toddlers and older children.

In young babies overtiredness can present as fussiness, irritability or excessive crying. And it can be almost impossible to help them settle.

Young children have an optimal wake time. After this point they will get tired, and that is when sleep helps rejuvenate them. However, if a child surpasses this point, their bodies can over compensate, and start revving up with stimulating hormones to keep them awake.

This second wind that children get often leads parents to believe their child isn’t tired and doesn’t need much sleep. It’s an easy pit to fall into if you don’t know any differently. But this can lead to a vicious cycle of more sleep deprivation.

Behavioural changes can make a difference

While medical issues can impact on sleep quality, a large majority of childhood sleep issues are behavioural. Basic sleep hygiene can be key to breaking the sleep deprivation cycle in these circumstances:

1. Ensure your child receives enough sleep daily

Typically, the younger the child, the more sleep they require over a 24-hour period. Younger children also require day naps to manage fatigue. In saying this, most children still require at least 11-13 hours of sleep overnight until the age of 10 years.

2. Set a consistent early bedtime

A bedtime between 6pm and 8pm helps ensure your child receives enough night sleep. Furthermore, going to bed at the same time each night will keep your child’s body clock in line.

3. Harness the power of a bedtime routine

 A good routine does more that physically prepare you for bed. It cues the body and brain that sleep is coming. The routine needs to be long enough for the body to wind down, but short enough for your child’s brain to anticipate what’s coming next. Around 30 – 45 minutes is ideal.

4. Limit screen time for an hour before bed

The light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin, the sleepy hormone, and this can greatly contribute to sleep issues.

5. Allow opportunities to catch up

Life happens, and there will be later nights and missed sleep at times. The key to recovering quickly is to allow your child the opportunity to catch up. That may mean an extra nap or an earlier bedtime for a few days.

While you can’t make a child sleep, you can encourage it and give them clear social cues that sleep is expected. Please seek help if sleep isn’t going well. Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep!


If sleep is missing from your life, how about some help to bring it back? I’d love to offer you a free initial call and mini sleep evaluation. You can book one HERE. I’m also on Facebook, so follow along for more blogs, sleep tips and parenting humour (because if you don’t laugh …..). I’m also on Instagram. I’d love to see you there too. x