I recently had a conference with a parent about the findings of the evaluation. As we talked, the mother expressed concerns about her child’s sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can affect health, cognitive and visual functioning, and behavior. When your child is sleep-deprived, their body’s nervous system will be out-of-balance due to stress. Let’s discuss some of the effects of lack of sleep on children.
1. Eye health – Basal (Steady state) tear production may decrease during drowsiness. As a result, your child may complain of dry, burning, itchy, or even watery eyes. Although watering and tearing is counterintuitive, it can be explained by the fact that we have different types of tears. Reflex tears may occur to help if basal tears cannot adequately lubricate the eye. A great video of the different types of tears can be viewed here:
2. General health – Your child’s body uses sleep to repair muscle and other soft tissues and bone development. Researchers have also found evidence of sleep-dependent memory of the immune system. Thus, the ability of your child’s body to remember harmful organisms (e.g. bacteria, viruses) is dependent on the quality and duration of their sleep. Sleep deprivation makes your child more likely to be ill. Additionally, chronic lack of sleep puts your child at risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
3. Brain functioning – Extensive research is known about the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive functioning and memory formation and retrieval. Eye-hand coordination is also negatively impacted by lack of sleep. Surprising to some people, sleep deprivation can impair cognitive functioning to the same or worse degree than alcohol consumption! Academic and athletic performance will be less than your child’s potential without proper sleep.
4. Visual skills – As a reminder, vision takes place in the brain. Eye teaming, eye focusing, eye movement control, and visual processing require energy and resources of the brain. Thus, when cognitive functioning is less than ideal, so are your child’s visual skills. As a result, your child may experience words “running together” or appearing double, words coming in and out of focus, and loss of place while reading are more likely to occur.
5. Mood and behavior – When your child is deprived of sleep, the body’s fight or flight response is on high alert. When your child does not get sufficient sleep at night, they are more likely to be overactive and noncompliant, as well as being more withdrawn and anxious. A sleep-deprived child will have problems with attention, which are either misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD or increase the symptoms of a child with true ADD/ADHD.
In order to make sure that your child has sufficient sleep for proper development of the mind, body, and mood, follow the updated guidelines of the National Sleep Foundation below.