Lack of Sleep & Behavior Problems: What’s the Link & How can You Help?

behavior problemsFrazzled, you enter the living room with yet another snack because your preschooler is still hungry. You stop in your tracks as you find him lying spread across his toys in the corner, sleeping. With a sigh of relief, you collapse onto the couch.

It has been a long and difficult day. One of many in the last few weeks. First, it was a challenge to even get your child out of bed. Then, he ran wild all over the grocery store. And the moment you reined him in and asked him to settle down, he broke out in tears as if you had just taken away his new puppy.

Seeing him sleep now brings an utter sense of relief. It will finally give you rest and some time to take care of your chores. He most likely will be out for a few hours, but that doesn’t worry you. You haven’t had any problems with him going to sleep at night. He usually falls asleep the moment he hits the pillow.

Sound somewhat familiar? – You know there is a problem. But what?

The answer could be that the ongoing behavior problems stem from a lack of sleep.

Ask yourself: Has my child’s behavior been slowly changing without an explanation? Has my child been unusually moody, irritable, or hyperactive lately? Does my child have difficulty waking up, staying awake during the day, or concentrating?

In a 2013 study, researchers disclosed that there is a link between lack of sleep and behavior problems in preschoolers. Parents consistently reported problems with aggression, impulsive and overactive behavior, and tantrums in children who had less than 9.75 hours of sleep at night.

Helping your child become a healthy sleeper could, therefore, counteract his behavior problems. How can you achieve that?

Make a personalized sleep/wake schedule and stick to it

Preschoolers need approximately 11 hours of sleep at night and an hour-long nap or quiet time during the day. Consistently keeping a sleep/wake schedule – even on the weekends and during holidays or vacation time – will help your child’s body fall into the routine.

Limit things causing interference in the bedroom

A child’s bedroom should be a relaxing and quiet place. Don’t allow noise and light – from a TV or other electronic device – to keep interrupting his sleep. Keep the room dark but not scary dark. Don’t create anxieties, soothe them.

Have a comforting bedtime routine

Begin the routine about an hour before it’s time to go to bed. Have your child take a bath, then tell stories, read books, or play a quiet game together. Eventually, this routine will trigger a feeling of comfort and calm that will help your child rest well every night.

Encourage physical activity during the day

Daily exercise – talking a walk, playing ball, or going to the playground – is important because it will help make your child tired enough to want to sleep at night. Whenever the weather allows it, go outside. But make sure you return inside about an hour before sleep time because sunlight interferes with the production of melatonin.

Prevent other interruptions

Children can be very sensitive to caffeine – consumed through beverages (like sodas), or foods (like chocolate). This could prevent your preschooler from falling asleep at night and getting a restful sleep.

While it seems counter-intuitive – since the preschooler in the initial example takes long naps and promptly falls asleep when he gets to bed – the fact is, the child was sleep deprived. So if you’re struggling with the same type of issues, consider employing the above mentioned strategies to help your own child sleep better and reverse related behavior problems.


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