What Happens When My Child or Teen Doesn’t Get Enough Sleep?

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Monday, March 3, 2014

children sleep rules Parents know that sleep is important for children – but chances are, they might not know just how vital getting a healthy night’s sleep can be. Scientists have established that just like a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is critical for children to stay healthy, grow, learn, do well in school, and function at their best [1].

We asked experts H.E. Montgomery-Downs, PhD, West Virginia University and O.M. Buxton, PhD, Harvard; Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Penn State University, to weigh in on just why it’s so important for children and teens to get a good night’s rest.

The primary consequences of poor sleep among children and adolescents are behavior problems, impaired learning and school performance, mood and emotion problems, and worse health including obesity. Concerning new evidence also indicates that adolescents’ sleep may be related to high-risk behaviors such as substance use, suicidal behaviors, and drowsy driving [2]. A recent study found that greater media use in teens was linked to a higher body mass index, largely because of reduced sleep time [3].

However, it is not just a matter of getting sufficient sleep quantity – children and adolescents, like adults, also need adequate sleep quality [4]. Young children can be deceptively hyperactive with insufficient sleep or because of a sleep disorder. Of course, any child or adolescent (or their parent) who snores, falls asleep at inappropriate times, or has other sleep disorders symptoms should talk to their doctor as soon as possible. A major developmental change during adolescence is that their body’s clock moves to a later timing for sleep [5]. However, this is only thought to be about one hour of a change, and another two hours of change is due to social factors, such as work pressures and access to technology. As with parents, balancing these time pressures is hard work.

To help meet these challenges, families can work together to make sleep a priority, so that everyone has the opportunity to sleep as much as they need in a safe, quiet, comfortable environment. Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent study showed that reducing screen time, increasing sleep, and eating dinner together helped kids maintain a healthy weight [6].

Sleep is in large part under our control—reducing pressures on our limited time can help prioritize time for sleep and improve health and wellness.


  1. Wolfson AR, Montgomery-Downs HE, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press; 2013.
  2. Dahl RE, Lewin DS. Pathways to adolescent health sleep regulation and behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2002;31:175-184.
  3. Arora T, Hussain S, Hubert Lam KB, Lily Yao G, Neil Thomas G, Taheri S. Exploring the complex pathways among specific types of technology, self-reported sleep duration and body mass index in UK adolescents. International Journal of Obesity. 2013;37:1254-1260.
  4. Luyster FS, Strollo PJ, Zee PC, Walsh JK. Sleep: A health imperative. SLEEP. 2012;35:727-734.
  5. Carskadon MA. Sleep in adolescents: the perfect storm. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2011;58:637-647.
  6. Haines J, McDonald J, O'Brien A, Sherry B, Bottino CJ, Schmidt ME, Taveras EM. Healthy Habits, Happy Homes: randomized trial to improve household routines for obesity prevention among preschool-aged children. JAMA Pediatrics. 2013;167:1072-1079.