University Study Links School Bullying to Lack of Sleep

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(Courtesy of The Courier News)

A new study suggests not getting enough sleep can get you into trouble — and not just with your doctor.

That was the conclusion of a University of Michigan study published in the journal “Sleep Medicine” last month that suggested children who are bullies are more likely to have sleep problems.

It’s also something Elgin School District U46 officials said they see in schools “all the time.”

“We say this to parents all the time: If your kids don’t get enough sleep, they’re not going to do well in school,” U46 Safety Coordinator John Heiderscheidt said.

Of the 341 school-aged children the University of Michigan surveyed, 32 percent (or 110 students) were rated by a parent or teacher as having a “conduct problem,” according to the abstract of the study. And 23 percent (78) had “symptoms suggestive of sleep-disordered breathing,” it said.

The children with conduct problems, bullying or discipline referrals more often were the ones who showed symptoms of sleep problems, according to the abstract.

“Urban schoolchildren with aggressive behaviors may have symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing with disproportionate frequency. Sleepiness may impair emotional regulation necessary to control aggression,” it said.

Dr. Ashby Jordan, a sleep specialist with practices in Elgin and Barrington, said a lack of sleep shows itself in different ways in different people.

In adults, “it’s what you would think,” Jordan said. That includes the inability to stay awake or concentrate.

But in children, he said, “Frequently it will result in irritability before they’re falling asleep.”

U46 Supervisor of Health Services Debbie Miller said the fact a lack of sleep can affect a student’s behavior and readiness to learn is common knowledge to the Elgin school district. That’s why nurses ask parents about their children’s sleep habits when evaluating children for special education services, she said.

There are many reasons students might not get enough sleep, Miller added.

In middle school, she said, many students move away from the idea of a set bedtime. But adolescence is a time when the body needs more sleep because it’s growing, she said.

Parents could work a late shift, leaving students home alone in the evening, she added. Those children might be waiting up late to see Mom or Dad, or they just might not have someone there to enforce bedtime.

Jordan said overachieving students also can fall into the camp of Americans’ “cultural denial of sleep: ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ and things like that.”

And its not just students’ grades or rap sheets that can suffer, he said.

A lack of sleep can affect the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections, he said. It also makes it difficult to control other medical problems like hypertension and diabetes.

The sleep specialist also pointed to disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Both were linked to sleep deprivation, he said.

“They all occurred in early morning hours at the end of a shift. When we’re tired and fatigued, we’re making bad decisions,” Jordan said.

“We do it for a third of our lives, so it must be important.”

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