Missing Sleep or Misbehaving?

Missing Sleep or Misbehaving: Which One is it?

Far too often, the importance of a good night’s sleep is overlooked in preschool aged children when behaviors are involved.  Did you know that 11-13 hours of sleep are recommended each night for children between the ages of 3-5? 

It can be very easy to miss the connection between the poor behaviors and the lack of sleep with your little one when all you can seem to hear is the whining, crying, aggressive, behaviors! Think about it though, aren’t you more likely to be irritable and cranky when you haven’t gotten a good night’s rest? Children are no different!

How can you tell if your child’s behaviors are being driven by lack of sleep? Check out these reactions to see how your child compares. 

– Upset by changes in routines

– Difficult to calm or comfort

– Losing it over little things

– Easily frustrated or overwhelmed

– Difficulties with patience

– Easily irritated by siblings or friends, particularly in the later parts of the day

– Loses attention and focus

– Hyperactive 

– Craves carbohydrates or sugars 

– Lethargic

– More physically aggressive 

Well rested little ones are more likely to behave. They have the mental capacity to be helpful, independent, and cooperative. Many of the above behaviors can go hand in hand with other known behavioral and mental health issues in children such as ADHD or Anxiety or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  It is important to remember that, when dealing with little ones, we rule out all of the “other” possibilities before jumping in and diagnosing a child with a disorder – and sleep is a very easy thing to assess and rule out! 

There can be several reasons for lack of sleep. When a child is OVERTIRED they may actually have extreme difficulty falling asleep and getting a restful sleep (I struggle to imagine this because without a doubt, if I’m overtired, I can guarantee I’m sacked out the moment by head hits the pillow!) Its so true though. My kids have their most restless sleep when they go to bed when overtired.

Medical issues can also impact quality of sleep such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. These conditions are most often associated with adults and knowing that it can also impact children is important. 

Helping your child get a better night’s sleep

-Try having a regular, consistent sleep schedule.

-Provide a relaxing bedtime routine  15-30 min of calm activities such as reading, singing songs, back rubs)

-Give your child a warm bath with California Baby Calming Aromatherapy Shampoo and Body Wash (or a similar brand) followed by a massage with calming lotion. 

-Keep the TV out of the bedroom. Shorter sleep cycles and less time spent in deep sleep have been associated with having the TV on in the background.

-Experiment with sensory based strategies such as providing a heavier blanket or a lighter blanket or running a fan or white noise machine in your child’s room.

If you have tried several different options and you find your child is still having difficulty with sleep and you believe it is impacting their behavior negatively, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss the next steps in helping your child improve their quality of sleep.


Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP 

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