What are the signs of sleep deprivation in children?

Whitney  Roban, PhD
Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics

Many parents have told me that they have been advised to wait until their babies or children show signs of sleepiness (excessive yawning, rubbing of the eyes) before putting them down for sleep. However, children who are very well rested should never show these signs of sleepiness because they are always put down to sleep before they are so very tired. If a child is showing those signs of sleepiness it is a good idea to get them to sleep immediately, as you do not want them to miss their "window of opportunity" when it is easiest to fall asleep.  Once officiallly overtired, it is physically more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.  This creates the dreaded cycle of sleep deprivation.

Also, children who are sleep deprived and always overtired often exhibit a behavior best described as being "wired." Therefore, parents mistakenly believe that they child is not tired and not ready for bed, when in fact, that child is already overtired and in a cycle of sleep deprivation.


Common symptoms are excessive tiredness, a tendency to fall asleep during the day and sleep-related injuries (such as those that result from dozing off while driving). Other obvious signs include crankiness or being short-fused.

Parents sometimes don’t make the connection between sleep problems and schoolwork. A tired child might have trouble focusing or paying attention at school, which can lead to lower grades.

If parents think that their child might have a sleeping problem, physicians have many diagnoses to consider. Medications, anxiety, airway problems, restless leg syndrome, bed-wetting reasons -- the list goes on. It’s important to understand the pattern of problems because that affects treatment.
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Watch as Dr. Michael Breus explains the various signs of sleep deprivation in children.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Signs of sleep deprivation are nearly invisible in babies and young kids, so it's virtually impossible for parents to see if sleep deprivation is causing any damage. The harm actually becomes visible around the age of two, when a child who's been tired for two years becomes defiant, noncompliant, and ready to color the inside of Grandma's house with his Crayola 64.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.