Your baby’s sleep problems, or your toddler’s sleep issues, can cause lots of chaos and stress in your home. Chronic sleep deprivation can affect your little one’s growth and development, and it can even affect your own health, as well as your relationship with your partner.
And here is something else to keep in mind, as your child grows: sleep deprivation is not just a problem for babies and toddlers. It’s a problem for big kids, too. Sleep disorders (like sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome) can create serious sleep deficits over time; in turn, those sleep deficits can cause emotional, physical, mental, and social problems for kids as they grow.
Sleep Problems Linked to Poor Performance in School
A recent study, conducted by researchers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, revealed that students who had sleep disorders (particularly sleep disordered breathing) earned lower grades than students who did not struggle with sleep problems. (Read the study’s abstract here).
From the study:
Thirteen percent of children with difficulty sleeping had failing grades in Portuguese, compared to nine percent of those without sleep problems. Likewise, 25 percent of kids with disrupted sleep had failing math grades, versus eight percent of children without trouble sleeping.
This is nothing new, of course; we have written several articles recently about how undiagnosed sleep disorders can, over time, create significant behavioral, emotional, and health problems.
But this mounting evidence is further proof that this problem is real, and that chronic lack of sleep for children causes bigger problems than many of us originally thought.
What is more, this problem is widespread, affecting numerous countries around the world. This includes the United States:
Experts estimate that roughly one-quarter of U.S. children have disrupted sleep at some point during childhood. Erratic bedtime hours and anxiety, either at school or at home, may contribute.
Other children may have unrecognized sleep disorders, such as sleep walking, nightmares or insomnia, or sleep breathing disorders, like sleep apnea. Some medications, including those for asthma or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, can affect sleep. The underlying medical problems may also cause sleep disturbances.
What This Means for Parents of Babies and Toddlers
Those of you who have children in school will no doubt find this article compelling, but what about those of you who don’t have school-aged kids yet? Does this study apply to you in any way?
I would venture to say yes, it does. This research provides further support to the idea that, as parents, we need to focus on and prioritize our children’s sleep, from the time they are born to the time they head off to college! This study just highlights the fact that sleep is not optional for any of us; we all need sleep as much as we need oxygen and water and food.
So while you may not need to worry about classrooms and teachers and report cards just yet, you can work now to foster a mentality that sleep is important. Don’t blow off your baby or toddler’s sleep issues, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that sleep deprivation is “normal” for your family. Remember, actual sleep disorders are rare, but even healthy babies and toddlers who wake frequently at night and miss naps can experience the kinds of developmental problems that children with sleep disorders experience.
Instead of treating a lack of sleep as “normal”, work to help your baby learn to sleep through the night. Focus on teaching your toddler how to overcome sleep problems. Work to figure out what might be causing your child’s sleep issues (since sleep issues aren’t usually isolated problems) – is it a scheduling problem? A food allergy? A behavioral/developmental concern? All of these can be addressed and treated; then, with a little coaching from you, your baby or toddler will be able to get the restorative sleep he needs.
How have you made sleep a priority in your home? What steps have you taken to improve your baby’s or toddler’s sleep? Share your insights with the rest of us!
Want to start prioritizing your baby or toddler’s sleep needs? Ready to take the first steps towards helping your baby or toddler sleep well? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.