A new study examines the relationship between aggressive behavior in children and sleep problems. According to research from the University of Michigan Medical School, children who exhibit conduct and aggressive behavior problems at school are also more often the ones falling asleep in class. The researchers examined elementary schools and focused on children who had previously been disciplined for behavioral issues or bullying, and discovered that these children were twice as likely to have a breathing related sleep disorder and were more fatigued during the day than their peers.
“What this study does is raise the possibility that poor sleep, from whatever cause, can indeed play into bullying or other aggressive behaviors, a major problem that many schools are trying to address,” says Louise O’Brien, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Sleep Disorders Center and the departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Neurology. “Our schools do push the importance of healthy eating and exercise, but this study highlights that good sleep is just as essential to a healthy lifestyle.” O’Brien stressed that being over-tired was the largest factor in the behavior issues. Additionally, the lack of sleep may be a result of external factors such as electronic stimulus from media devices in the bedroom, or dysfunctional and hectic home lives.
O’Brien believes that if sleep deprivation plays a role in the development of aggressive behavior, many of the children who bully may decrease their negative actions if their daytime fatigue is reduced. “We know that the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain is sensitive to sleep deprivation, and this area is also related to emotional control, decision making and social behavior,” says O’Brien. “So impairment in the prefrontal cortex may lead to aggression or disruptive behavior, delinquency or even substance abuse. But the good news is that some of these behaviors can be improved. Sleep-disordered breathing can be treated, and schools or parents can encourage kids to get more sleep.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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