The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

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Many adults suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation due to sleep disorders, hectic schedules, stress, and various other reasons, but did you know that 60% of America’s children don’t get enough sleep?

Most of us know first hand that sleep deprivation can make you irritable, tired, have less focus, a lower frustration level, and exhibit behavior that’s more emotional and impulsive, but the more sleep studies that are done, the more we begin to realize that the vast repercussions of sleep deprivation…

It was recently discovered in a sleep study at Tel Aviv University, that children’s ability to learn was seriously impaired by even the slightest amount of sleep deprivation. In fact, one study group was able to improve on tests assessing attention span and memory by almost 2 grade levels just by adding an hour of sleep!

Another recent discovery revealed that many children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD were actually suffering instead from chronic sleep deprivation. According to sleep specialist, Stanley Coren, sleep deprivation leads to a temporary loss in IQ levels, reasoning and memory, and even makes kids a little hyper. As if that isn’t enough, scientists also suspect that chronic sleep deprivation in children may also impair growth and development.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco examined the effect of sleep on brain plasticity in young cats and discovered that sleep dramatically enhances changes in brain connections during early development. They found the amount of plasticity (connections between nerve cells) in the brain depends on the amount of deep sleep. (The type of sleep a person falls into when they first go to sleep.) Marcos G. Frank, Ph.D says, “This is the first direct evidence that sleep modifies the effect of environmental stimuli on the development of new brain connections.”

According to Mark Mahowald, professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, “Any amount of sleep deprivation will diminish mental performance. One complete night of sleep deprivation is as impairing in simulated driving tests as a legally intoxicating blood-alcohol level.”
On the other side of the coin… with adequate sleep, motor skills are improved about 20 percent because the brain during the 6th and 8th hours of sleep acts on calcium molecules to preserve motor skills newly acquired through practice.

Sleep deprivation at any age can impair metabolism, immune functions, and motor skills, increase stress hormones, and cripple sugar metabolism. School-aged children need 9-12 hours of sleep a night, teenagers need 8½ – 9 hours, and adults need 7- 8½. It’s important that parents recognize the signs of sleep deprivation.

Some of the signs to look for are as follows:

  • Can’t fall asleep 15 to 30 minutes after going to bed.
  • Can’t wake up easily in the morning.
  • Can’t remain alert and awake all day.

Establishing good sleep habits is imperative for the healthy development of children. The National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute offers the following tips for parents to help get their kids to bed:

  • Set a regular time for bed each night and stick to it.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as giving your child a warm bath or reading him or her a story.
  • Avoid giving children a big meal close to bedtime, and no caffeine within six hours of sleep.
  • Make after-dinner playtime relaxing; too much exercise close to bedtime can keep children awake.
  • Keep the noise level down and the bedroom dark. If some light is necessary, use a small nightlight.