“Sleep-Wake” Epidemic Could Affect 1 Out of 5 Children, Study Says

This silent condition is growing, but can be effectively treated

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Every parent on this planet will agree that their favorite time of the day is when the kids are sound asleep. This is especially true with newborns, but equally satisfying with older kids and teenagers.

However, recent studies and research from a UK Institute, has shown that there is a frightening new epidemic affecting children worldwide – lack of sleep!

How to Tell if Your Teen or Child is Sleep Deprived

  • They are constantly falling asleep while traveling for less than 30 mins, watching TV or reading.
  • They need to take a nap on returning from school every afternoon.
  • Mood swings that include impulsivity, become accident-prone and show impaired concentration and attention.
  • Impaired ability converting short-term memory into long-term memory
  • Speech fluency and complexity are diminished as well as their creative thinking abilities.
  • Start using stimulants to stay awake, such as; caffeine, energy drinks and nicotine.
  • Habitual snoring
  • Difficulty falling asleep or even staying asleep throughout the night that lasts for a period longer than a month.
  • They have night time behaviors that are unexplained and keep other family members awake.

It may not seem too serious for those who have kids who fall asleep with ease, but as children get older and move into their adolescent years, sleep almost gets placed on the back burner.

Socializing; endless amounts of homework and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) all start playing a role in keeping your tween or teen wide awake.

Social pressure; internet usage; mobile or electronic devices also play a role in delaying sleep. Add to the mix nicotine; illicit drug usage and caffeine and you have a ticking time bomb!

Unlike a newborn baby that has swapped its day and night around, where you simply change their routine around to “reset”, there is no quick fix for a young child, teen or adolescent with insomnia.

In fact, many parents may actually end up believing that their child is going without sleep willingly and this may seem true as most will entertain themselves to pass time during these sleepless hours.

So why is this “insomnia epidemic” causing such a stir with experts?

For starters, NHS statistics for England has indicated that almost 10,000 under-16s were admitted to hospital for a sleep disorder and exhaustion related illnesses!

Still not too convinced that lack of sleep needs to be taken seriously? A recent study on insomnia in adolescents indicated the following:

1 in 5 children between the ages of 15-18 years of age is sleep deprived.

However, the results could also apply to younger children. Researchers commonly refer to this disorder as “sleep-wake disorder”.

They indicated that if promptly recognized, with correct treatment it can have a positive outcome. In an alert state, the brain is able to maintain wakefulness and retain attention without any external stimulation.

The Natural Sleep Process

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It all depends on the circadian drives’ net balance which enables or facilitates a wakeful state and the homeostatic drive which in turn facilitates sleepiness.

Here’s a scientific breakdown:

  • Scientists call the circadian a bodies’ “timekeeper”. Basically, it receives visual information which tells your brain it is dark outside and then sends this message to your brain to go into sleep mode.
  • When it is time to wake up, your forebrain will trigger specific neurons and in turn, induce wakefulness.
  • Another important sleep factor is melatonin which is a sleep-inducing hormone that is produced just before the onset of sleep by the pineal gland.
  • During adolescence, the release of melatonin is delayed and thus results in teens unable to fall asleep before 10:30 pm. Preadolescence release is around 8:30 pm. This melatonin release is referred to as “Sleep Hygiene”.
  • This later release of melatonin in teenagers results in them going to bed later, but still needing to be up early for school; thus depriving them of the necessary 9-9.5 hours of sleep needed.

As adults, we can recognize when we are sleep deprived, but children are not that blatantly aware of their sleep deprivation symptoms. This is especially true for those who are in fact falling asleep between 10 pm and midnight.

If one were to ask them they would respond they actually slept, but it all hinges on how deeply they slept and whether or not they were in a full state of rest.

The Long-Term Effects

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While some effects such as lack of concentration and constant lethargy may be obvious, there are more far-reaching effects on your child.

Most of these effects are not ones that can simply be ignored or overlooked.

  • Restless leg syndrome – may seem harmless but add to the wakeful state even when in deep REM. The “creepy crawly” sensation on the limbs causes an urge to constantly move them. It is often mistaken as “growing pains” and is associated with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • The central nervous system can be severely affected leading to frontal lobe dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular system resulting in pulmonary hypertension
  • The respiratory system can be affected and sleep apnea could appear
  • A reduction in the release of pulsatile growth hormone
  • Impaired glucose intolerance has also been reported

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Restoring nature's balance may not be that hard and could be as simple as:

  • Avoid any type of nicotine and caffeine approximately two hours prior to bedtime.
  • Establish a set evening routine that includes jotting down all your teen’s “worries” before they go to bed – a type of “to do” list for the following day.
  • Maintain a 30-minute tech-free zone before getting into bed.
  • Go to bed only when sleepy (which may seem silly but if ignored can delay the melatonin process)
  • Avoid clock watching in the evenings – this works purely from a psychological aspect
  • Switch off all ambient lighting in the bedroom, bathroom and surrounding area.
  • Ensure that any items on charge are not emitting any light source and are placed a safe distance away from the bed.
  • Wake up at the same time 7 days a week to establish a wakeful state routine.

While technology such as iPads, cell phones etc are all getting a large majority of the blame for this epidemic, the truth is that there is a much deeper root cause.

Naturally, technology does play a large role but so does the amount of stress put on children nowadays to overachieve.

The days when children were left to be just children seems to be a thing of the past and perhaps one that we all need to take a much deeper look at…….

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Written by Angelina Angileri

As a single mom of four incredible children, Angie always says that she has a PHD in “Surviving Life”. Having worked in both the health and financial industry, she eventually found that writing not only “feeds every fiber of her soul” but also hopes that sharing her story and “mamy” skills will inspire other mommies out there.