Can a Good Night’s Sleep Lower Aggression in Children?

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • lillian


    June 7th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    if a good night’s sleep can help me get over my crazy boss’ talk and my pathetic office then certainly it could help a child get rid of bullying see,we tend to do negative things when our mind is not at peace but with sound sleep that peace is ours!

  • blake l

    blake l

    June 8th, 2011 at 4:43 AM

    Teachers have been saying this for years!
    I can always tell the kids in my class from year to year whose parents make a good night’s sleep a priority for their kids and the ones who force them to live on their own timetable. Aggression is a natural thing for some children but this is always exacerbated when the kids do not get neough sleep at night. It can wreck havoc with the best of us, it is just that kids do not know how to deal with it like adults can. Good message for anyone to follow.



    June 8th, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    …And I thought sleep is a natural process that only helps us recharge ourselves and a lack of sleep would cause health problems. Now we see that sleep may also play a role in our behavior! It’s not for nothing that doctors and other experts advise a good night’s sleep.

  • TF


    June 9th, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    I find myself irritated and a not-very-pleasant person to talk to if I haven’t had enough sleep or even if the quality of my sleep wasn’t great the previous night.I don’t know why this happens but I suppose that is how we are built and that is how important sleep is in our lives.

  • Sally L.

    Sally L.

    June 11th, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    Interesting. Anyone will get cranky if they don’t get enough sleep, not just children. I have to have my sleep or it ruins my day. I don’t know how others manage on four hours a night.

    When I’m in a bad mood, the last thing I want to deal with is a bunch of annoyances with no chance to take a nap at some point.

  • evelyn rich

    evelyn rich

    June 11th, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Kids that bully don’t need just a good night’s sleep, they need a good parent that lays down rules. If the child is having problems paying attention at school and the like, then they probably need to go to bed earlier than usual so as not to be tired throughout the day. It’s simple but is it being enforced by the parent?

    If the child’s being aggressive however, the parent needs discipline to be their top priority.

  • Gene St. Clair

    Gene St. Clair

    June 12th, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    @evelyn rich–I have to agree. They can cite all the science they want, but I believe human beings are perfectly capable of controlling their own aggression.

    You know what you do with bullies who can’t control themselves? You put them in an alternative school for teens who are well beyond discipline. Let them try bullying those children.

  • heather haines

    heather haines

    June 16th, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    I gather that now we’re taking bullying and blaming it on a lack of sleep. Ridiculous. It’s not lack of sleep. It’s caused by children having spineless parents who won’t discipline them or set boundaries. Too many want to be their child’s buddy and not their parent nowadays. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Bob Fry

    Bob Fry

    June 16th, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    @heather haines. Does it occur to you heather that many of these bullies are subjected to bullying at home themselves? Or have parents that don’t care about what they do or when, leaving them to fend for themselves?

    Did you even see this part? “…these children were twice as likely to have a breathing related sleep disorder and were more fatigued during the day than their peers.”

    That proves that yes, there can be reasons that are not simply having spineless parents. Tiredness makes us all short-tempered–even you I’d wager. Have a heart.

  • louise allison

    louise allison

    June 19th, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    Kids get enough sleep unless their parents allow them to have TV’s, computers etc in their bedrooms. If they have sleep disorders, there are plenty of cures, diagnoses, and remedies for it.

    In a way I hope this is true because then we stand a chance of conquering at least partially the bullying epidemic.

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