The Dark Side of Sleep


The Dark Side of Sleep

By Dijana Bate, Glebe Montessori School Founding Director

A wealth of information is being brought to our attention as modern technology is further unveiling the mystery of sleep. Chronic and intermittent sleep disorders affect millions and are linked to depression, hypertension, digestive problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lowered immune system and countless other medical conditions. Sleep problems can result from various factors, ranging from excess light exposure and modern pervasive electronic devices distracting us from sleep to physical, medical and psychiatric issues. Even one hour less of sleep ostensibly takes a toll on us. New studies reveal that the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation – or “sleep debt” – causing changes in brain activity and increased stress hormone levels cannot easily be reversed with extra sleep later.

The National Sleep Foundation offers the following sleep duration recommendations: Newborns: 14 – 17 hours per day; Infants (4-11 mo): 12-15 hrs; Toddlers ( Ages 1-2): 11 – 14 hrs.; Preschoolers ( Ages 3-5): 10 – 13 hrs.; School-aged Children (Ages 6-12): 9 – 11 hrs.; Teenagers ( Ages 13-17): 8 – 10 hrs.; Adults: 7- 9 hours.

Quantity of sleep, however, does not necessarily translate into quality of sleep. Some sleep disorders may even go unnoticed, such as sleep apnea, in which breathing is obstructed by blockages in upper airways, causing sleep interruptions that make a person feel exhausted in the morning.

Of great concern is the susceptibility of children to sleep disorders and/or a shortage of sleep. In a study conducted by Dr. Shur-Fen Gau involving 2,463 children aged 6-15, children with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display oppositional behaviors.

Questions are being raised regarding today’s purported rise in ADD/ADHD, depression, autism spectrum disorders and anxiety mood disorders in children; can these conditions be affected by sleep deprivation and/or sleep disorders?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine provided information on a study authored by Dr. Oliviero Bruni, of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the University La Spaienza in Rome, Italy: “ The first known attempt to evaluate the sleep patterns of children with Asperger syndrome, taking into account sleep architecture and the cyclic alternating pattern, finds that children with AS have a high prevalence of some sleep disorders and mainly problems related to initiating sleep and sleep restlessness together with morning problems and daytime sleepiness.”

Dr. Judith Owens, author of The ADHD and Sleep Conundrum: A Review, reveals “studies of sleep disturbances in children with academic and behavioral problems have also underscored the role that primary sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea hypopnea syndrome play in the clinical presentation of symptoms of inattention and behavioral dysregulation. New methodologies used in examining sleep and sleep patterns in children diagnosed with ADHD have shed further light on the prevalence, type, risk factors for, and impact of sleep disturbances in these children.”

According to Dr. Colin Shapiro, Professor of Psychiatry and Ophthalmology, University of Toronto and Director of the Toronto Western Hospital Sleep & Alertness Clinic, “many children diagnosed with ADHD may have a simple and very treatable sleep disorder.”

Sleep is a precious resource –especially for our children. Some tips to ensure your child has a good night’s sleep:

  • Your child needs daily exercise.
  • Recognize signs of fatigue; your child may seem energetic past the bedtime hour, when in fact s/he is on overdrive, responding to the stimulation of stress hormones that reactivate him/her.
  • Check that mattresses and pillows are comfortable for your child.
  • Maintain a sleep schedule (between 6 – 8 pm depending on your child’s age)– even during the weekends.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime atmosphere and ritual.
  • Prior to lights out, allow 30 minutes for your child to prepare to go to sleep each night.
  • Spend special time with your child at bedtime, reading and conversing.
  • Turn off all electronics.
  • At bedtime, avoid sugar and caffeinated foods or drinks (i.e. chocolate and sodas).
  • Turn all lights off at sleep time. Light at night (especially blue wavelengths) suppresses melatonin, throwing off the circadian rhythms (the body’s biological clock) and disrupting natural sleep patterns. (Harvard Health Publications)
  • Encourage your child to inform you of any sleep problems they may have.

We invite you to learn more about the latest in sleep research and the prevention of sleep disorders with renowned psychiatrist, sleep specialist and author Dr. Colin Shapiro at Glebe Montessori School, 650 Lyon St. South, on Wednesday, January 27th at 7 pm. Please contact us by email at or phone us at 613.237.3824 for further information.