15 Ways Lack of Sleep Is Harmful To The Baby

America, it’s time to sleep! No kidding, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, 30 to 40 percent of children are not getting enough sleep. Over 2 million children have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. The average sleep time for children has reduced from 9 hours in the 1960s to below 7 hours nowadays.

Sleep deprivation can be an issue even in babies as young as 6 months. There could be many reasons for sleep deprivation in babies. The home environment and unhealthy sleeping habits of parents may contribute to sleeplessness of babies.

Babies and toddlers not sleeping enough or through the night is a common complaint of many parents. But the baby not sleeping through the night may not indicate a problem with lack of sleep. The sleep pattern of babies changes frequently and keeps the parents confused. So what factors can help a parent determine that the baby is sleep deprived? Well, watch out for the symptoms of ‘overtiredness’ or sleep deprivation:

  • The baby shows a complete lack of interest in people and surroundings
  • The baby is sleeping less during the day
  • The baby yawns all the time
  • Babies get breathing pauses while sleeping
  • They flutter their eyelids often
  • They show signs of irritation such as pulling ears and rubbing eyes
  • Older babies are scared of bed-time
  • There is difficulty feeding the baby

If these symptoms persist for a long time then the baby is unable to sleep and if the problem is not treated it may lead to other medical problems in future. It is best that you see the pediatrician and find ways you can help your baby get a good night’s sleep.

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15 Can Cause Obesity

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Lack of sleep not only affects brain functioning, but also metabolic processes in the body. Those babies who are sleep deprived gradually gain weight and are at a risk of becoming overweight by the age of 3. Children who sleep less tend to gain weight due to energy imbalance. This energy imbalance is caused by changes in hormones such as insulin, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and growth hormone.

A study done by Johns Hopkins University found that each additional one hour of sleep reduces the risk of a child becoming obese by 9 percent. Secondly, they also found that children who slept less had a 92 percent higher risk of becoming obese.

Tell your children that it's very important for them to have good sleep for their growth, health, and that a lack of sleep may increase their risk of becoming fat, says Dr. Youfa Wang, Assistant Professor of International Health and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins.

14 A Negative Effect On The Immune System

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Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system and the baby is at a greater risk of catching infections such as flu or common cold. Numerous studies have been conducted and most of them have concluded that sleep and the immune system are related in a complex way. In research conducted by the UCLA Cousins Center, the researchers found that, even a small amount of sleep loss can impact the immune system and triggers inflammation and tissue damage.

Our immune system releases disease fighting proteins during sleep. When the body is sleep deprived, the proteins decrease in number and leave the baby more prone to diseases. Furthermore, it also affects the recovery time during sickness. Long term lack of sleep can have a serious impact, therefore if the baby is showing symptoms of over-tiredness and lack of sleep then corrective steps should be taken to avoid bigger problems later. Interestingly, the impact of sleep loss can linger even when regular sleep is restored.

13 Disturbs Memory

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Lack of sleep impairs the ability of the brain to consolidate memory and makes learning a difficult task. The brain stores the memories created during the day in a long-term cache in order to organize them to be retrieved later. This function is performed by the brain during the REM (Random Eye Movement) or dream sleep. Lack of sleep obstructs this function and impacts our memory, especially immediate memory. The sleep of an infant comprises of 50 to 80 percent of REM sleep.

An interesting study on infants’ memory was performed on 15-month old babies by Dr. Rebecca Gomez and her colleagues at the University of Arizona. These babies were played a 15-minute recording of a fake language. When they were tested 4 hours later, it was found that the babies who took a nap after the recording remembered the recording and were flexible in learning. But those who didn’t nap completely forgot the recording.

12 Lower Cognitive Scores

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Most research has focused on the impact of sleep deprivation in babies or adults on brain functioning. The brain changes tremendously during early childhood. Babies and toddlers who sleep less show low performance results on neurodevelopmental tests. Cognitive abilities and sleep go hand in hand. It is not easy for a tired mind to concentrate.

Sleep plays a vital role in the infant brain’s ability to mature. The brain is usually busy in a constant process of forming new cell connections, which promotes sound mental development and helps in learning processes. In research conducted by the University of Colorado, it was found that new cell connections formed by the brain become stronger during sleep. Almost 20 percent of the connections between the left and the right brain happen during sleep. The researchers recommended that an early bedtime be maintained for babies to increase their overall intellectual skills. If a regular sleeping time can be maintained, the chances of cognitive improvement during sleep increases.

11 Makes Moody Babies

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A study was done to observe the behavioral changes of sleepless babies against well rested babies and it was found that babies who slept well appeared more engaged, predictable and less fussy. Babies who are sleep deprived tend to be irritable and they get frustrated easily.

A study conducted by Montgomery-Downs and Gozal in 2006, determined that the sleep pattern of a baby also helps decide how a baby regulates her emotions. However, they did not find that lack of sleep resulted in any permanent difficulty in controlling emotions.

Most babies can cry and smile within a split second. If a baby finds it difficult to calm down after getting upset then the baby may be sleep deprived. Soothing the baby to sleep may be a tough task when the baby is irritable. Try to create a 5 to 10 minute routine before every nap time such as standing with the baby by the window or singing a lullaby. Slowly the baby will get used to this routine and learn to relax.

10 Baby Is Overstimulated

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Sleeplessness causes over-tiredness; and over-tiredness results in overstimulation. When the baby’s nervous system is overloaded with too much sensory stimulation it leads to increase in stress in the body. The baby’s blood is flooded with adrenaline and it becomes even harder for the baby to relax. The baby is powerless to come out of this situation as the nervous system of a baby is immature. So it may take weeks and even months for the baby to recover from the sleep debt.

Even if the parents try their best, the baby is going to resist nap time. Here are a few tips that do not guarantee any overnight improvements, but can be tried to help the baby over a period of time. The bath time can be moved to night. Read for about 20 minutes to the baby while rocking him. Soothing music can be played while the baby naps. After a few days it may work, but some days could be a battle.

9 Inattention and Hyperactivity

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Anyone who is sleep deprived, will have a hard time concentrating on anything in particular. Infants are no exception! However, there is a difference in the way they respond to sleeplessness. Adults become dull when they are sleepless; in contrast kids become hyperactive and inattentive. Some people get confused with the symptoms of sleeplessness and ADHD. To differentiate, kids lacking sleep also display other symptoms such as irritability, moodiness, and eye rubbing along with inattention.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a study found that solving the sleep problems can address the attention related problems of many children.

When the baby is overtired, she may tend to catch up with sleep by taking longer naps for a couple of days. The baby becomes happier and quieter. But sleeplessness may return and the parents may get confused. In such cases, it is better to consult a pediatrician and discuss if some other problem is keeping the baby awake.

8 Increases Separation Anxiety

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Separation anxiety and sleep are known to co-exist. But it may be difficult to find out which one is a result of the other. In most cases, babies go through separation anxiety at the age of 10 months. It may happen as early as 6 months too. Even though the baby might have started sleeping through the night, some babies may start crying and looking out for mum all over again.

In a study, it was found that well rested babies felt more secure when separated from their care providers. The opposite was true for the babies who had not had adequate sleep time.

Developmental milestones such as teething also cause separation anxiety. If all other causes have been ruled out then the baby may need extra cuddles, hugs and kisses during sleep time for an extra 10 minutes. A little bit of comfort and reassurance can help reduce the anxiety over a period. Till then, hang on!

7 Tardy Growth

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The growth hormones are released in high levels into the bloodstream during deep sleep. The babies are growing a little every day. Even the brain and liver are underdeveloped until 16 months of age. Long time sleep deprivation can slow down the development of a baby. The height and weight also may fall behind in the growth charts. It may lead to delay in other developmental milestones too.

Eight percent of the growth hormone called somatotropin is released from the pituitary gland during sleep (Non-REM). If the baby is unable to sleep then it reduces the production of this hormone. Although lack of proper diet and exercise also impact the physical development, sleep is the most vital element required for proper growth. In a study conducted on 6 month old babies by Tel Aviv University, it was found that the growth of a baby slows down or impedes without enough sleep.

6 Vaccinations Less Effective

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If the baby is scheduled for a flu shot, make sure he is well rested. The American Medical Association published a study in their journal that stated the effectiveness of vaccines reduce in a sleep deprived baby. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that in a sleep deprived condition the immune system produced less antibodies after immunization.

It was found that people who slept less were at a 11.5 times higher risk of being unprotected by the vaccine. It was also found that lack of sleep can also result in respiratory problems. This study was performed on healthy adults and there has been no research to determine the impact on babies. Usually, if a baby gets a fever it shows that the immune system has responded to the vaccine. But if the baby has not been sleeping well and does not show any response to the vaccine then it should be discussed with the pediatrician.

5 Long Term Social And Emotional Problems

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Social and emotional problems emerge later in life when kids go through long-term sleep related problems. A study conducted by the University of Houston found that kids who had inadequate sleep are at a risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.

Candice Alfano, director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, states that they were interesting in learning how kids express, regulate, appraise and recall emotional occurrences when they had or had not had enough sleep. She further adds that they focused on children because problems such as depression and anxiety can develop early in life, and they wanted to learn how problems with sleep patterns and habits may have contributed to problems that last well past childhood.

Children mostly avoid social activities when they are sleep deprived as it requires effort and energy to interact with others. Emotional processes are disrupted at multiple levels such as being unable to identify non-verbal cues, impulsivity, and negative emotions to state a few.

4 May Be A Link To Autism

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Is there any link of autism and sleep and deprivation? Well, there is a lot that scientists do not know about autism. The causes of autism are still largely unknown. But here is an interesting outcome of a study that shows that there could be link between sleep deprivation and autism.

In this study, conducted by Beth Malow, a neurologist and Terry Katz, a psychologist, kids with autism were identified who had no other medical issues. The parents of these kids received one-on-one sleep advice from experts to promote sleep in their kids. The study showed that training the parents on sleep education reduced anxiety levels and repetitive behavior in autistic kids and it also increased their attention span and overall quality of life.

Not that it has been proven, but there is a lot that can be guessed. For babies who have chronic sleep deprivation, they should be helped as soon as possible. There is no harm in trying sleep techniques in consultation with experts that will help a child thrive.

3 Lack Of Patience In Parents

A sleep deprived baby leads to a sleep deprived parent and this can lead to a number of different things that can be harmful to baby. Some parents could lose patience with a crying and fussy baby, especially when they are the only care-providers. They have to sacrifice their sleep to soothe the baby. Exhausted parents may unwittingly handle the baby roughly, or simply be too tired to notice when the baby is about to harm himself. 

It is important for a parent to get help from family and friends when there are signs of frustration and fatigue. Parents need to be aware of each other's energy level and step in when one is overtired. One more hand to care for the baby can give the main caregiver some time to catch up with sleep. Another thing to do is to limit the number of responsibilities. Along with this, communication with the partner or family member can be of great help. This will give a much needed boost to their physical and mental energy.

2 Parental Lack of Focus

Needless to say, sleeplessness reduces the focus on day to day tasks. Days and weeks of sleeplessness can make the weak body override the will of mind. There is an obvious lack of body movement coordination. A run down parent can inadvertently lose alertness, which may cause harm to the baby. A mother may not even realize when giving a too hot bottle to the baby.

There have been cases where mothers slipped with the baby and even dropped the baby accidentally. Forgetting to strap the baby in the pram, accidentally cutting into the fingers while clipping nails, are just a few confessions of tired mothers.

Get up early and do a few exercises even if the body isn’t really willing. It will increase the alertness levels and energize the body. Take turns with the partner to sleep and try to stick to a routine even if it seems impossible. This will make life more predictable.

1 Fatal Consequences With Parental Sleepiness

A documentary by National Geographic shows that approximately 1000 deadly road accidents occur every year due to lack of sleep. Sleep deprived parents should stay away from driving as much as possible, especially with the baby. Driving while feeling drowsy is worse than drunken-driving. A sleepy mind is less vigilant and the reaction time to any situation reduces drastically.

If you are feeling drowsy, then prior to driving, try to take a 15 minute nap with the baby. If the baby doesn’t want to nap then it’s possible to leave him in the playpen to entertain himself and try to catch a few winks on the sofa. If you become overly drowsy while driving, then try to stimulate yourself by opening the car window and letting the fresh air hit your face, turn the radio on loud to upbeat music. If necessary, pull over somewhere safe and drink something cold and stretch your body. This will induce some alertness, but only temporarily. When you are feeling sleepy it is best not to take any long drives. Save the trip to the grandparent’s for a time when everyone is well rested.

Sources: WashingtonPost.com, AboutKidsHealth.ca, ScienceofMom.com, ParentingScience.com, PediatricServices.com, PsychologyToday.com


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