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10 Surprising Ways Overtiredness Harms Children

How to spot overtired kids and make sure they get the sleep they need

Malia Jacobson

Published on: August 02, 2022

Young child with red hair sleeping and holding a stuffed animal

Doctors say chronic overtiredness is rampant among modern kids. Left unchecked, this highly common condition can contribute to health problems, weight gain and learning difficulties. The more you know about overtiredness and how it affects children, the better you’ll be able to spot it — and stop this health saboteur in its tracks.

1. Tricky tots

Overtiredness can be difficult to detect because it can look like hyperactivity, says Maida Chen, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Seattle Children's Hospital.

2. School struggles

The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation in children is associated with poor school performance and lowered test scores.

3. Weighty matters

According to new research, sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity two-fold in children and adults, and is associated with excess body weight in both kids and teens.

4. Diabetes danger

New research shows that just one night of sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance, a factor in type 2 diabetes.

5. Too tired, too wired

When kids are awake too long, an overbalance of adrenaline makes it difficult to reach and maintain deep, restorative sleep, so overtired kids have a harder time falling and staying asleep.

6. ADHD imposter

Overtiredness can masquerade in a host of ADHD-like symptoms, and even lead to “faux ADHD,” a condition characterized by behavior problems and learning difficulties.

7: Emotionally exhausted

According to a recent study, toddlers who miss naps have trouble expressing their  emotions, which has a lasting effect on their developing brains.

8. Night frights

Kids who are overtired are more prone to nightmares — doctors chalk this up to the fact that overtired children spend more time transitioning in and out of deep sleep.

9. Fidgety legs

Overtiredness worsens the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, a condition affecting 1.5 million children and adolescents.

10. Early birds

Overtiredness is a common reason for waking too early in the morning, because overtired children are less likely to stay asleep during the naturally occurring period of lighter sleep between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The best prevention for overtiredness is also the best cure: an age-appropriate bedtime and a solid bedtime routine. It’s a small price to pay for a calmer, happier, healthier child.

How much sleep does your child need?

Is your child getting enough sleep? Check these guidelines to be sure.

  • Kids one to four weeks old — 15–16 hours per day
  • Kids one to 12 months old — 14–15 hours per day
  • Kids 1–3 years old — 12–14 hours per day
  • Kids 3–6 years old — 10–12 hours per day
  • Kids 7–12 years old — 10–11 hours per day
  • Kids 13–18 years old — 8–9 hours per day

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