Texas Health Steps

Poor Sleep Can Take a Toll

sleepy child at classroom desk

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2019) states that sleep problems are a public health issue in the United States, “impacting daytime behavior, physical health, and quality of life for children and their families.” The AAP continues: “Maladaptive daytime behaviors and medical conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, alterations in sympathetic tone, and immune dysfunction are associated with poor sleep” (Ibid.).

Age-related sleep disruptions are common among children, based on characteristics of their phase of development. Babies rarely sleep through the night, for instance, and young children may experience irrational fears that keep them awake. Teens naturally go to bed late and many need to rise before getting the recommended amount of sleep because of school.

Children also may have poor sleep because of sleep disorders, which affect up to 50 percent of children and 40 percent of adolescents, according to the Sleep Foundation. Sleep disorders require careful diagnosis because they can be comorbid with mental and physical health issues. For example, insufficient sleep can contribute to anxiety and depression, “creating a bidirectional relationship that can worsen both sleep and emotional wellness” (Sleep Foundation, 2020).

Disruptive sleep disorders include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Parasomnias, such as bed wetting, sleep talking and sleep walking
  • Behavioral insomnia of childhood
  • Delayed sleep phase disorder
  • Restless legs syndrome

Other sleep problems, which may be temporary, can be caused by life changes, such as a new sibling, schedule, sleep place or caregiver. Or sleep problems can result from a child being sick with a cold, the flu or an ear infection. Careful surveillance may allow health-care providers to help families remedy such situations and improve children’s sleep.

Read more about management of sleep disorders later in this course.