Can lack of sleep affect your child’s behavior?

One of the most common questions that parents often ask is, “what determines the personality and behaviour of my child?”

You probably have heard a lot of comments like “she got her dad’s shy personality,” or “if his mother was more stern with him, he might have grown up to be more relaxed and successful.”

However, research has painted a different picture in regards to the environmental and hereditary aspects of the child. The majority of the evidence supports that the baby is born with genetic compositions that not only defines the color of his eyes, types of diseases he will get, and how he will look, but it also influences his personality and traits that he will develop.

Keep in mind that the environmental and hereditary aspects are not the only factor that affects the child’s personality and traits, but proper sleep does play a significant role (and good sleep habits also influence your baby’s intellectual development). With that in mind, here are some insights on how the lack of sleep may affect the baby’s brain and personality.

Relationship Between Temperament and Sleep

Parents are familiar with how their child acts when it’s past their bedtime. Scientists have asked parents to explain the situation, and often times we would get different answers.

Some children would relax and slowly fall asleep, whereas others will cry and climb the walls. Because of these aspects, it is obvious that young children react to tiredness and sleepiness in different ways. Some children may respond to bedtime with hyperactivity and excitement, while others will yawn or slowly drift away. Either way, the majority of the evidence reflects that there’s a strong relationship between sleep and personality traits.

Studies have shown that children who suffer from sleep disorders, such as difficulty falling asleep or awakening at night, tend to have behavioral issues. In one study, scientists research babies at the age of 9 to 24 months. They also did a temperament questionnaire with the mother to compare the results. The results showed that mothers with babies that have sleep problems tend to be more annoying, negative, and demanding to different stimuli. They also have issues adapting to various situations as compared to other babies with healthy sleep patterns. They also found that babies with sleeping disorders are more sensitive to sensory stimuli than babies with normal sleep habits.

In order to fall asleep, the baby will have to separate himself from the environment and stop interacting with the noise, temperature, light, people, and other external stimuli. They would also have to separate from their internal signals such as discomfort, pain, and hunger. The ability to separate from all the stimuli is extremely important to obtain a proper and uninterrupted sleep pattern to prevent constant awakening. Babies who are sensitive from birth to any stimuli tend to have trouble relaxing and falling asleep. This behavior continues throughout childhood.

Setting up the proper mood to let your child fall asleep

The Relationship Between Sleep Disorder and Behavior Problem

Additional studies have shown that there’s a correlation between sleep disorder and behavior problems in school-age children. They found that sleep disorder can lead to depression, stress, anxiety, and difficulties in adapting to various environments and situations.
This reveals that children with sleep problems tend to have problematic behavior, such as impatience, nervousness, and difficulty to manage.

In treatment centers, scientists have often come across children who are described by their parents as being extremely hyperactive. However, in a professional term, this is diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which often occurs more frequently in older children. This type of disorder often hinders the child’s ability to sleep. Even though this disorder is diagnosed at a later age, but there is evidence that younger children can still have it as well.

Because of all this research, we are still faced with a common question, “are these children having trouble sleeping because they are hyperactive or does their underlying sleep problem result in these restless and hyperactive symptoms?”

More and more research is conducted and reflects that the lack of sleep may cause or aggravate these hyperactive symptoms. We may notice that the child will constantly fidget, shake, or fiddle with their hands. This pattern is contradictory to the perspective that an exhausted child will relax and calm down. Therefore, it is a lack of sleep that results in behavioral problems, and if the child receives the proper medication for a sleep disorder, they would not have to take on unnecessary medication like Ritalin.

Sleep Problems and Intellectual Development

Assessing an infant’s intelligence is a highly complex task. Keep in mind that testing their mental abilities tend to have its limitation, so it’s challenging to research the correlation between sleep problems and intellectual development.

For example, the University of Connecticut has conducted a study where they follow newborn infants to examine their development at six months. They will test their motor, mental, and perceptual abilities. They found that infants with sleep problems from respiratory issues or other diseases tend to have poor intellectual development and academic achievement. However, other studies have found no comprehensive correlation between mental function and sleep problems.

Other research claims that all children and adults with sleep problems tend to have issues with their concentration, attention, and cognitive ability. All of this means that people with a lack of sleep tend to react more slowly and make more errors on projects that require continuous concentration and attention.

This comes back to a mother describing their babies with sleep problems as having trouble concentrating, playing, or remaining focused for an extended period of time.

Take away message

Lack of sleep can cause significant behavioral problems, such as anxiety, tantrums, nervousness, and hyperactivity. However, since intellectual development is very difficult to measure, sleep issue has a different effect on your child’s developmental aspect. It affects cognition, ability concentrate, and attention span.
As parents, it makes sense that we want to make sure that our child is well-rested. Fortunately, some popular Babies Sleep Training methods and programs can provide us with tips and tricks to help our child sleep better.