Does Lack of Sleep Cause Behavior Problems in Children?


What does Keiki have to say?

Behavioral Insomnia in Children

One of the most common complaints encountered when raising children, are sleep difficulties.   Fifteen to 30 percent of children are having problems either falling asleep or experiencing frequent waking throughout the night.  The article goes into detail about each of the possible disturbances.  These can include prolonged night waking secondary to children needing to fall asleep under certain conditions, as well as children protesting bedtime.  Suggestions on how to improve your child’s sleep habits were provided.  Sticking to routines and establishing set bedtimes were the most emphasized strategies.

This article seemed to be the most closely related to the media clips.  It really focused on the behavioral implications.  In all three of the media clips, they primarily focused more on how to get your child to bed at a reasonable time, as well as how to improve their sleep quality.  This article had multiple suggestions similar to the ones stated by Dr. Oz and the other professionals.  Routines and strict bedtimes were both highly stressed.

Nguyen, K., & Soultan, Z. (2015). Why Doesn’t My Child Sleep?”-Behavioral Insomnia in Children. New York Family Medicine News, 28-30.


How about America’s favorite doctor?

Relationship Between Children’s Sleep and Mental Health in Mothers of Children with and Without Autism
This study researched the correlation between mothers sleep patterns with those of their children. Two groups were researched. One group had children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, while the other was a typical group of children. Research suggests that rearing a child with developmental disabilities may negatively impact a parents’ mental health. This in turn could cause poor sleep patterns for the parent. If the parent is stressed and has lack of sleep, they can potentially hinder sleep in their own children, thus causing spikes in behavior. Mothers of children with ASDs reported more problems with their own sleep, greater stress, and poorer mental health; however, children’s sleep and maternal sleep were more closely related to maternal stress for mothers of typically developing children. This proves that the disability itself with ASD is what is causing the mothers symptoms, rather than solely the lack of sleep.

Hodge, D., Hoffman, C., Sweeney, D., & Riggs, M. (2013). Relationship Between Children’s Sleep and Mental Health in Mothers of Children with and Without Autism. Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 956-963. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1639-0

More from the Doc!

Waking Up to a Problem
This article focused on what could possibly happen when a child is sleep deprived. They tend to have behavior problems and frequent temper tantrums. They might be impulsive and have difficulty following directions. Many children resemble a child that might be diagnosed with ADHD. And many children, who actually are diagnosed with this disorder, suffer from an underlying sleep disorder. This would act as the primary problem. An interesting part of the article suggested that later start times in school shows improvements in grades. However, this is difficult to schedule due to sports conflicts and extracurricular activities. Recommendations were also provided. This included actual amounts of hours required for each age. Elementary age children should be getting around 11 hours of sleep while adolescents should be getting 9 hours. Decreasing screen times, as well as limiting caffeine were also some suggestions.

MITCHELL, K. (2016). Waking Up to a Problem. Businesswest, 32(20), 40.

What can happen if a child isn’t getting enough shut eye?


  • Irritability
  • Poor school performance
  • Characteristics of ADHD (Attention-Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder)
  • Poor tolerance for change
  • Increased behavior problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity

Is your child getting enough sleep? Take the test

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, your child is getting enough sleep:

  • My child falls asleep in less than 20 to 30 minutes of bedtime.
  • My child wakes up easily in the morning, at the expected time.
  • My child appears well rested during the day.
  • My child stays awake without taking a nap during the day. (This question only applies to children that have outgrown their daytime nap.)
  • My child stays awake during quiet activities, such as driving in the car or watching television.

Symptoms of not enough sleep

If you or his teacher can answer yes to any of these questions, your child is not getting enough sleep.

  • My child has a hard time waking up in the morning.
  • My child falls asleep after being woken up and needs parents to wake again or repeatedly.
  • My child yawns frequently during the day.
  • My child complains of feeling tired.
  • My child prefers to lie down during the day, even if it means she’ll miss activities with friends and families.
  • My child wants to nap during the day.
  • My child lacks interest, motivation, and attention.
  • My child falls asleep or seems drowsy at school or at home during homework.


What Can You Do?

1. Avoid feeding your child big meals close to bedtime, and don’t give her anything containing caffeine less than six hours before bedtime.

2. After dinner, avoid all stimulating activities, says Carol L. Rosen, M.D., medical director of pediatric sleep services at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

3. Warn your child that bedtime is in five minutes, or give him a choice — “Do you want to go to bed now or in five minutes?” — but do this only once.

4. Establish a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and ends in your child’s bedroom. Avoid scary stories or TV shows. It’s better to read a favorite book every night than a new one because it’s familiar.

5. Avoid singing or rocking your child to sleep, because if she wakes in the middle of the night she may need you to sing or rock her back to sleep — a condition known as sleep-onset association disorder. (If you have already been doing this, try to phase this behavior out gradually.) Instead, have her get used to falling asleep with a transitional object, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

6. Make sure your child is comfortable. Clothes and blankets should not restrict movement, and the bedroom temperature shouldn’t be too warm or too cold.

7. If your child calls for you after you’ve left his room, wait a few moments before responding. This will remind him that he should be asleep, and it’ll give him the chance to soothe himself and even fall back asleep while he is waiting for you.

8. If your child comes out of her room after you’ve put her to bed, walk her back and gently but firmly remind her that it’s bedtime.

9. Give your child tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight, a spray bottle filled with “monster spray,” or a large stuffed animal to “protect” him.

10. Set up a reward system. Each night your child goes to bed on time and stays there all night, she gets a star. After three stars, give her a prize.