Making Room for Sleep

Making Room for Sleep

Sleep plays an important role in the way people think, feel, and behave. There is a lot of scientific evidence that appropriate levels of sleep are necessary for optimal physical (Nixon et al., 2008), cognitive (Nilsson et al., 2005) and emotional functioning (Gregory & Sadeh, 2012).

Sleep is an important domain of many branches of psychology including neuroscience, developmental psychology, child psychology and health psychology. An understanding of how sleep is regulated, what performance domains are affected by sleep and how sleep can be optimized is of great interest to many practitioners and researchers in psychology. Applying sleep knowledge in therapy may improve the ability of therapists to improve client’s mental and physical health.

Sleep deprivation is especially prevalent in children of all ages of development, from infancy to adolescence. A large percentage of children and adolescents do not get the sleep they need on a regular basis and are therefore chronically sleep-deprived (Spilsbury et al., 2004).

Why is Sleep So Important?

Sleep is influenced by two components – biological factors and social/cultural norms. Even though sleep quality, quantity and timing are governed by internal biological processes, sleep is also significantly impacted by cultural, parental and social values and norms. Sleep time is culturally regulated in all societies. Influences on sleep include the demands of social institutions such as school or work start times, as well as opening hours for stores, offices and economic sectors. The necessary acculturation of sleep patterns begins at childhood. Successful acculturation to culturally-regulated sleep times creates a well-adjusted individual but if there is a poor fit between the cultural bedtime practice and one’s individual lifestyle, it may lead to sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is one of the hallmarks of modern society. A healthy amount of sleep is necessary for a healthy and productive lifestyle, and sleep restriction is associated with many negative consequences.

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

¬ Short sleep duration creates sleepiness in children, which leads to externalizing behaviors (acting out, aggression), irritability and short attention span.

¬ Sleep deprivation impairs learning and memory. Brain imaging studies have shown that neural networks associated with new learning are reactivated during sleep (Wagner, Hallschmid, Rasch & Born, 2006). Following sleep deprivation, the hippocampus (the brain’s memory-encoding center) does not engage normally when performing tasks such as verbal learning or visual memory (Drummond et al., 2000). Sleep is also critical for the consolidation of memory and sleep restriction can have a 20-30% reduction in memory (Kopasz et al., 2010).

¬ Sleep deprivation also impairs academic success. Sleep time and school performance have an inverse relationship. This means that when children do not sleep enough, their cognitive performance is affected negatively and they do worse in school. In a study, 24% of adolescents reported that their grades suffered because of sleepiness (Gibson et al., 2002). Another study found that students with grades C, D, or F got, on average, 25-30 minutes less sleep per weeknight than their peers with better grades (Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998). Moreover, sleep restriction has a negative effect on neurobehavioral functioning such as attention/response inhibition, verbal creativity, problem solving, and cognitive abilities, all of which are essential for academic success. A modest but frequent reduction in sleep of just 1 hour can have a significant negative impact on cognitive performance (Sadeh, Gruber, & Raviv, 2003).

¬ Sleep deprivation impairs emotional regulation. Children and adolescents with sleep problems have higher rates of emotional problems as well (Gregory & Sadeh, 2012). It is a vicious cycle, sleep deprivation causes emotional problems leading to stress and arousal, which then further interferes with sleep and affects overall well-being (Dahl & Lewin, 2002).

¬ Sleep deprivation impairs health. Reduced sleep duration has been linked to systemic inflammation that may lead to insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis (Vgontzas, Bixler, Papanicolaou, & Chrousos, 2000). Furthermore, shorter sleep duration is a risk factor of obesity (Spiegel et al., 2004). It seems that short sleep duration creates increased insulin resistance and enhanced appetite (Spiegel, Tasali, Penev & Van Cauter, 2004). 

¬ Sleep deprivation also impairs adolescents’ driving ability. Short-term sleep restriction has been shown to impact driving ability negatively and increase crash risk (Philip et al., 1999). The incidence of sleep-related crashes is higher for drivers who have less than 7 hours of sleep a night (Stutts, Wilkins, Osberg, & Vaughn, 2003). Moreover, in the US from all car accidents related to sleepiness, 55% of drivers are 25 years old or younger and most single vehicle crashes occur before 7am (Garder, 1994).

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

In order to create programs to help children and adolescents improve their sleeping habits, we need to understand what contributes to sleep deprivation.

Sometimes, sleep deprivation is caused by sleep disorders. In this case, children need to be referred to professional help.

Sleep deprivation often occurs as a result of lifestyle choices. Sleep restriction can be the result of hectic, demanding and unbalanced lifestyles including the pressure to achieve academic success, the need to participate in extracurricular activities, and considering sleep a low priority compared to all other competing demands. It is important for teachers and parents to recognize the importance of sleep and encourage lifestyle choices that allow adequate time for sleep. 

Sleep deprivation can also be caused by poor sleep habits and changing developmental needs. Sometimes parents of infants and toddlers develop habits that are difficult to break and are not conducive to good sleep. Some of these negative habits may be waking up in a middle of the night (as a result of nighttime feeding in infancy), exposure to light or high levels of stimulation before bedtime (watching TV before bed, having a computer in the bedroom). These are ingredients for poor sleep hygiene and can cause significant sleep deprivation. Once again, with attention to these potential problems, parents can establish healthy habits that will result in better and longer sleep for their children.

 

Making Room for Sleep References

Gruber,R. (2013). Making room for sleep: The relevance of sleep to psychology and the rationale for development of preventative sleep education programs for children and adolescents in the community. Canadian Psychology, 54, 62-71.

Nixon, G. M., Thompson, J. M., Han, D. Y., Becroft, D. M., Clark, P. M., Robinson, E., . . . Mitchell, E. A. (2008). Short sleep duration in middle childhood: Risk factors and consequences. Sleep, 31, 71–78. 

Gregory, A. M., & Sadeh, A. (2012). Sleep, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 16, 129–136. 

Spilsbury, J. C., Storfer-Isser, A., Drotar, D., Rosen, C. L., Kirchner, L. H., Benham, H., & Redline, S. (2004). Sleep behavior in an urban U.S. sample of school-aged children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 988–994. 

Wagner, U., Hallschmid, M., Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2006). Brief sleep after learning keeps emotional memories alive for years. Biological Psychiatry, 60, 788–790. 

Drummond, S., Brown, G., Gillin, J., Stricker, J., Wong, E., & Buxton, R. (2000). Altered brain response to verbal learning following sleep deprivation. Nature, 403, 655–657. 

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Wolfson, A. R., & Carskadon, M. A. (1998). Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents. Child Development, 69, 875–887 

Sadeh, A., Gruber, R., & Raviv, A. (2003). The effects of sleep restriction/ extension on school-age children: What a difference an hour makes? Child Development, 74, 444–455. 

Gregory, A. M., & Sadeh, A. (2012). Sleep, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 16, 129–136. 

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Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2004). Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of Internal Medicine, 141, 846–850. 

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