How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Kids? It Can Lead To Brain Damage

Apparently there is a reason parents always fret when their little one isn't getting enough sleep, beyond simply being tired themselves. Traditional research tells us that both children and adults need proper sleep to fully function, this we know for sure. But a new study has found that sleep deprivation in children can cause brain damage, and can affect brain maturation in general.

According to Salome Kirth, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University Hospital of Zurich:

The process of sleep may be involved in brain "wiring" in childhood and thus affect brain maturation. This research shows an increase in sleep need in posterior brain regions in children.

Adults who are suffering from a lack of sleep tend to feel the effects in the frontal regions of the brain. Both children and adults function best with a full night's sleep, or eight hours of uninterrupted rest. For children who stay up too late, are restless, or often find their sleep disrupted, damage to the posterior brain could prove to have long-term complications. The posterior brain is responsible for planned movements, spatial reasoning, and attention. Dr. Kirth pointed out in his study that the effects of sleep deprivation might not be immediately noticeable, but could have long-term consequences.

"This research shows an increase in sleep need in posterior brain regions in children," Kurth said.

So how do parents protect their children from the lasting effects of sleep deprivation? Because, as most of us already know, trying to get your kid to sleep sometimes feels like climbing a mountain with no peak. The Sleep Foundation has come up with a series of helpful hints on how to get babies and toddlers to sleep.

For babies and infants, of course, it's all about their schedule — paying attention to signs of sleepiness and trying to establish a routine. But as infants grow into toddlers with minds of their own... things can get a little trickier. The Sleep Foundation recommends that parents do the following:

  • Maintain a daily sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine.
  • Make the bedroom environment the same every night and throughout the night.
  • Set limits that are consistent, communicated and enforced. Encourage use of a security object such as a blanket or stuffed animal.

School-age children who are exploring a new social environment (which can naturally be as stressful as it is exciting) need their sleep more than ever. Keeping electronic devices out of bedrooms, avoiding caffeine, and maintaining a sleep environment that is conducive to sleeping (dark, cool, and quiet are the way to go) should help them sleep better.

If you are worried that there might be something out of the ordinary affecting your child's sleep, it's always best to consult your pediatrician, so they can grow, learn, and function to the best of their abilities.