Poor sleep may be a factor in aggressive behavior among kids, according to new research that found that children who bully other kids are more likely to be sleepy during the day.
In the study, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that children with conduct problems at school were twice as likely to have sleep-disordered breathing problems or daytime sleepiness as other children who reported adequate amounts of sleep.
“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,” Louise O’Brien, assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Sleep Disorders Center and the departments of neurology and oral and maxillofacial surgery, said in a university news release.
In examining elementary school students who had conduct problems, the researchers concluded that sleep-disordered breathing — problems that occur during sleep, including snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, where the airway collapses — could be the cause of their daytime sleepiness. Other reasons for kids’ fatigue, they noted, could include a disorganized home environment or too much stimulation from technology, such as televisions, cellphones or computers in the bedroom.
The study, published online May 26 in Sleep Medicine, suggested that although more research is needed on the link between sleepiness and conduct problems, efforts to reduce children’s daytime sleepiness could help eliminate a significant amount of bullying among kids.
“We know that the prefrontal cortex area of the brain is sensitive to sleep deprivation, and this area is also related to emotional control, decision making and social behavior,” O’Brien said. “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,” she said. “Sleep-disordered breathing can be treated, and schools or parents can encourage kids to get more sleep.”
To improve children’s sleep quality, the researchers said, parents should:
- Remove TVs, phones and computers from kids’ bedrooms.
- Encourage children to get an adequate amount of uninterrupted sleep each night. That’s 11 to 13 hours a night for preschoolers and 10 to 11 hours nightly for school-aged kids.
- Make getting enough sleep a household priority.