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Top often-missed sleep disorder symptoms in students

 Sleep disorders can have a range of negative effects on students. Here, Medical Tracker explains how to spot often-missed sleep problems in your pupils.
Top often-missed sleep disorder symptoms in students | Medical Tracker
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It’s hard to overstate the importance of regular good sleep for students. Sleep is known to regulate and revitalise many of the body’s functions, ranging from memory and learning to mood. This means that youngsters who don’t get enough rest on an ongoing basis can suffer a wide range of ill effects that may impact on their performance at school and their wellbeing more generally.

However, knowing that sleep is essential is one thing; spotting the signs of a lack of shuteye among school pupils is something else altogether. Often, symptoms can be linked to changes in hormones or typical 'teenager' behaviour, when in fact, they may be signs of a long-term sleep disorder having a significant impact on the child.

In this post, we outline some often-missed symptoms of sleep disorders in children to help school staff ensure they are as vigilant as possible when it comes to this crucial issue.

 

Easy-to-spot signs that might indicate sleep disorders in children

It’s important to be aware that some of the possible indicators of sleep issues that we mention below can, in fact, be caused by other circumstances or conditions in a child’s life. This means it’s always key for teachers to pay close attention to students’ basic needs in terms of everything from hunger and thirst to activity levels and mental health.

For instance, a child displaying signs of irritability might do so because they’ve been skipping breakfasts due to financial problems at home. Sleep disorders can cause these symptoms, but you shouldn’t immediately jump to conclusions when other causes are also possible. Instead, a more measured approach of checking in with the child and their parents or carers may be more appropriate.

Sleep disorder symptoms to look out for

Bearing this in mind, here are some of the symptoms that children may display if they are suffering from a lack of sleep.

 

Difficulty concentrating or irritability

The NHS notes that poor sleep can affect concentration, meaning that youngsters who aren’t getting enough rest may be more prone to making mistakes in their school work. This can be particularly noticeable in repetitive tasks that require high levels of focus and motivation.

Students might also show signs that they are struggling to retain information in the classroom. Research has shown that sleep is vital for a process called memory consolidation, which involves memories from the day being strengthened overnight. So, if you notice that a child is finding it more difficult than usual to recall information they had recently picked up during lessons, this could be a tell-tale sign of a sleep problem.

Children who haven’t had their required amount of sleep overnight might also wake up feeling irritable or aggressive, so you may notice they lose their temper more and have difficulty getting on with other pupils.

 

Low mood, fatigue or headaches

Prolonged lack of sleep is known to impact mood and can increase the risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Of course, there are many possible causes of mental health problems in children and teenagers, but it is important to be aware that chronic sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor.

A 2021 study published in JAMA Network Open highlighted this link, suggesting that there was a statistically significant relationship between sleep disruption and symptoms of depression in children and youths.

It’s little surprise that poor sleep can lead to general feelings of fatigue in students, but what is less well known is that sleep disorders can also make children more likely to suffer headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. They might be more likely to refuse breakfast, too as poor sleep overnight can leave children with a reduced appetite in the morning.

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Poor school performance

A decrease in general school performance is clearly a concern for a variety of reasons, but teachers and other school staff should be aware that poor sleep is one possible explanation for this problem. It is now well established that students who aren’t getting enough rest may suffer in terms of their academic results. This isn’t surprising, given all the other impacts of sleep disorders we have already discussed.

Supporting this, a 2019 study published in the journal npj Science of Learning found that more and better quality sleep was associated with higher levels of academic performance among school students.

 

Increased risk of physical injury

Another possible symptom of sleep disorders, and one that may show up as a pattern in your school’s digital accident reporting software, is an increase in the risk of physical injuries. Research has revealed that a lack of proper rest can cause children to become clumsier and also mean they act more impulsively. In turn, this can result in more physical injuries in school and elsewhere.

 

Do kids with ADHD have trouble sleeping?

Some children may be more prone to sleep problems than others - and this includes students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These youngsters may have difficulties getting to sleep in the first place, and the quality of their sleep can also be poor. Often, people with ADHD describe their sleep as restless and say they struggle to shut off at night.

It can be harder to spot the signs of sleep problems in students with ADHD because some of the behaviours associated with the condition are similar to symptoms of sleep issues. For example, in both circumstances, students might find it more difficult to concentrate.

The key when you are looking for indicators of sleep disorders in students, whether they have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, is to pay attention to what is typical or atypical for them as individuals. If you spot changes in behavioural patterns in a particular pupil that you think might indicate they are experiencing a lack of sleep, you should communicate with the parents or carers to discuss your concerns.

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