Sleepy Now, Depressed Later: The Effects of Sleepiness on Children

Sleep is an important function in child development. It is essential for the maintenance of physical and mental health. Young children require a large amount of sleep to support their bodies’ growth and allow their brains to mature and develop properly. There is a limited amount of research on sleep and its effects on child development, but what does exist shows that sleep problems are linked to psychological problems in children. Mona El-Sheikh wanted to extend the existing body of research to get a broader picture of how sleepiness affects overall functioning in children. In a recent study, El-Sheikh assessed 251 children over a three-year period. She recruited the children when they were 8 years old, and comprised her sample of African-American and European-American children from varying socioeconomic statuses (SES). She evaluated how sleep affected future psychological outcomes—specifically anger, anxiety, depression, and aggression.

El-Sheikh discovered that the children who had more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep had higher rates of internalizing at year three, which manifested as symptoms of anxiety and depression. This was especially true for the female participants, the low-SES children, and the African-American participants. El-Sheikh believes that because girls appear to be more susceptible to mood problems in adolescence, the lack of sleep during preadolescence could increase their risk at an even earlier age. “There were large differences in depression for girls with higher and lower levels of sleepiness, indicating that girls are more vulnerable than boys in this context,” she said.

Although this study was quite diverse, it should be considered in light of some limitations. First, the data was gathered over a three-year period. Future work should extend the study period to include the dynamic shift from preadolescence to adolescence to get a better picture of the long-term psychological effects of sleep impairment. Also, research should address the question of why lack of sleep seems to impair African-Americans more than European-Americans. Exploration into the SES factor and cultural issue could provide greater insight into this important area of study.

El-Sheikh, M., Bub, K. L., Kelly, R. J., Buckhalt, J. A. (2012). Children’s sleep and adjustment: A residualized change analysis. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030223

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  • Lila


    October 24th, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    I see more and more the lack of concern and attention that is given to the necessity of sleep. What has happened to make us think that we can go full steam ahead 24/7? It’s all this hyped up energy stuff that makes us thin k that we can be superhuman, and I guess if you want to do it to yourself then by all mean have at it, but don’t let that lack of attention affect the kids/

  • Shemar


    October 24th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    As a classroom teacher, I see the effects of lack of sleep in my students on a daily basis.

    They have never been scheduled, go to bed whenever they want, and as a result they do poorly in school and in addition have a difficult time managing their feelings and emotions. This leads to a lot of anger, a lot of disappointment, and I would concur, alot of eventual depression and conflict in their lives. I don’t know that sleep would be the ultimate solution- maybe the verdict is still out on that until more extensive study is completed. However, I know how much better I function and my own children function when we have had a night of restful sleep. How this fails to hit some parents as important continues to baffle me.

  • William


    October 25th, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    As a teacher of pupils with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Needs in Glasgow, Scotland, I can vouch for the consequences of sleeplessness that Shemar describes. All who accept my challenge of going to bed before midnight for a week say that school is more enjoyable, concentration is more focussed and learning is easier.I am becoming more convinced that the dual issues of sleeplessness and poor nutrition are causing huge problems for my pupils.

  • slidah


    October 25th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    any thoughts on how the lack of sleep could also play a part in adult depression? any links there?

  • Emery


    October 25th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    We observed that my eighteen month old niece has been having disturbances in sleep for a couple of weeks now.She does not fall asleep as easily as she used to and has trouble staying asleep.We took her to a doc just two days ago and he said there is nothing to worry.But having read this I am concerned.What would be a good way ahead for the baby?

  • al


    October 26th, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    my sister was very particular about sleep disturbances affecting other areas for her little she has adopted a few things like the right bedroom environment and soft music for her two year old son.she wants him to get into the habit of having good sleep habits because she certainly believes in the power of good sleep and is also wary of all the negatives that come with poor sleep.its something that you should look into if you have a young child too!

  • Trish


    October 28th, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    is it really sleep that results in all those things later on or is it just the individual and that sleeplessness and the other things mentioned occur together?I don’t see how sleeplessness can have such a huge impact unless there is something more to it as an individual.Some people develop these psychological outcomes just like certain people have this sleeplessness compared to the others.How are we to know one CAUSES the other??

  • JB


    October 29th, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    After all these years of partying NOW I start seeing all of the text that favors so much sleep! Hopefully I can take better care of the kids’ sleep schedules than I have ever done for myself!

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