Children are affected by lack of sleep just as adults are, but while a tired adult may look sleepy and move slowly, sleep-deprived kids often look like they're bursting with energy. Don't be deceived, though -- sleep is vital for children because they are constantly growing and developing. When children's sleep needs aren't met, the signs are often apparent in their behavior.
It's not uncommon for a child to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, when he's really suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, reports MedlinePlus, the website of the National Institutes of Health. This is because when some children don't get enough sleep, they can exhibit symptoms of ADHD -- becoming disagreeable, excitable, and hyperactive, and engaging in extreme behaviors like tantrums or aggression.
Lack of Focus
Children who aren't getting enough sleep may also have problems focusing, and this affects their ability to learn. Kyla Boyse, a registered nurse, explains in the article "Sleep Problems" on the University of Michigan Health System website that a tired child is unable to focus on tasks, and this can lead to frustration and emotional outbursts because she is trying hard to pay attention to what's going on around her. Overtired children also become forgetful and make mistakes they wouldn't make normally. They may bother other children or talk excessively because they are trying to stimulate their brain to regain their focus.
Children who are sleep-deprived have trouble managing emotions and may seem irritable or whiny. In an interview on Scholastic.com, child-development expert Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of "Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep It Deserves," points out that an overtired child tends to lack patience and becomes frustrated easily. He may also be bossy or demanding. As a result, he has more conflicts with peers, parents and caregivers.
Clumsiness and Impulsivity
If your child isn't getting the sleep he needs, he may be more prone to injuries. A tired child tends to be clumsy and impulsive or plays in a more wired or frenzied way than is usual. This behavior can lead to actions that cause accidents. Kurcinka notes that children who go for 8 or 9 hours each day without a rest period are more likely to end up in the emergency room.
Your Child's Sleep Needs
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the effects of a lack of sleep on your child's behavior may not be obvious initially. Sleep deprivation is a cumulative problem, and the effects become more obvious over time. While most kids' sleep needs tend to fall within a typical range based on age, every child is different and your child may need more or less sleep than his peers. Typically, though, a toddler between 1 and 3 years old will need between 10 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, including nighttime sleep and daytime naps. Preschoolers need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep, but may have dropped the daytime nap. School-age children between the ages of 5 and 12 can function with less sleep, and need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day.