Amy was an avid reader. At 10 years old she prided herself on reading a book a week, and was partial to what she liked to call “old school” books – Nancy Drew, the Little House series, and anything by Judy Blume. While other parents worried that their kids were spending hours a day on their smartphone, Amy’s mom, Sue, was relieved when her daughter committed her free time to reading.
Convinced that reading would provide a relaxing segue between homework and bedtime, Sue would tuck her daughter into bed, leave the bedside lamp on, and set a timer for a half hour before it was “book closed and light’s out.”
One day Sue was shocked to a find a note from Amy’s teacher. “I am concerned about Amy’s focus,” the note read. “Amy has been nodding off in school and becomes irritable at the slightest provocation. I have moved her seat to the front of the room. Perhaps you might want to speak with your pediatrician?”
Sue wondered, might Amy have ADD? She loves school, so why is she irritable? Maybe hormones were starting to kick in. Still, it didn’t make sense. Yes, she knew that Amy was not turning off the light after 30 minutes, but she figured that with reading, the positives outweighed the negatives. Later that day, she asked Amy what time she turned off the light the night before. “Be honest,” Sue insisted. “I won’t be mad.” Amy burst into tears, admitting that she had been going to bed for the past few weeks around 2 am.
Sue realized that so many of the symptoms her teacher had pointed out – irritability, sleepiness, lack of focus – as well as a few observations of her own, reinforced what her pediatrician already knew: sleep-deprived children are NOT sleepy kids, it’s something much more and it has become a national epidemic.
A Nation of Sleepy Children
According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately one-third of developing children and adolescents consistently are not getting enough sleep. Being sleep-deprived is hard enough for an adult, but it can be even worse for a developing child. That’s because sleep-deprivation in children can be easily misinterpreted, and result in misdiagnoses. For example, hyperactivity, poor attention or falling grades can be seen as a symptom of ADD or ADHD. Nodding off in the middle of the day might be confused with narcolepsy. Poor social interactions might be thought indicative of the autism spectrum, while risk-taking behavior might be diagnosed as impulsive-control disorder.
The Developing Brain
The long-term effects of sleep deprivation on a developing brain can result in medical and sociological implications now, as well affect outcomes in later life. Poor grades now could likely impact a child’s academic and professional options as a young adult. In sports, sleep deprivation decreases performance while increases the risk of injury and accidents. For newly driving teenagers, missing two to three hours of sleep quadruples the risk of having a car accident. For infants and toddlers, lack of sleep can have myriad effects on language development, social interaction, cognitive abilities and behavior.
Parents may be concerned that their children do in fact have ADD or ADHD, however, tests like the Connors Scale, a survey taken by parents and teachers that is used by doctors to asses inattention, hyperactivity, learning problems, executive functioning, aggression and peer relations, may provide false positives if the child is, in fact, sleep deprived. Remember, teachers only see your child during school hours and may have no idea about their sleep habits. If your teacher or day care provider hints that your child might have ADD/ADHD or another condition, take notice of your child’s sleep habits by keeping a log you can share with your pediatrician. Only you as a parent will know the full story to determine the best course of action for your child’s health and well-being.
Gingras Sleep Medicine recognizes that children are not simply small adults. They have special sleep challenges and needs. Dr. Jeannine Gingras is a caring pediatric-trained sleep specialist in Charlotte and Concord, North Carolina with board certifications in sleep medicine. She is a recognized leader in pediatric sleep disorders. If you believe your child has sleep challenges, call Dr. Gingras today at (704) 944-0562 for better nights and brighter days.