Doctors say chronic overtiredness is rampant among modern kids. Left unchecked, this highly common condition can contribute to health problems, weight gain, emotional problems 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.
- Tricky tots. Overtiredness can be difficult to detect, because it can look like hyperactivity, says Maida Chen, MD, associate director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Seattle Children's Hospital.
- School struggles. The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation in children is associated with poor school performance and lowered test scores.
- 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.
- Diabetes danger. New research shows that just one night of sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance, a factor in type 2 diabetes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Emotionally exhausted. According to a new study, toddlers who miss naps have trouble expressing emotions, which has a lasting effect on their developing brains.
- 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.
- Fidgety legs. Overtiredness worsens the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, a condition affecting 1.5 million children and adolescents.
- 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 4am and 6am.
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.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally-published sleep and health journalist and mom of two.