Sleep :

Missing a Nap Makes for an Anxious Toddler

Laura Snider, Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

Missing just one nap can cause toddlers to become more anxious and frustrated when faced with a challenge, according to new research by a University of Colorado scientist.

In fact, the effects of skipping 90 minutes of sleep for children between the ages of 21/2 and 3 are similar to what adults experience when they pull an all-nighter, according to Monique LeBourgeois, who led the study being published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

LeBourgeois and her colleagues gave toddlers kid-friendly puzzles to solve -- both when they were well rested and when they'd missed their naps. One of the puzzles had all the correct pieces, and one was insolvable with a piece that wouldn't fit.

Researchers videotaped the children's expressions -- looking for changes in facial features such as eyes, brows and lips -- to determine how the children felt while putting together the puzzles.

They found that sleep-deprived toddlers were less likely to act confused -- an adaptive emotion that signals an understanding that something does not add up -- and more likely, instead, to act "flat" or frustrated.

"If you have a problem, let's say you can't find your way and you're lost, the response is confusion, and that's a good thing," LeBourgeois said. "When (toddlers) don't get enough sleep -- in this case from a nap -- they don't show that response. What they show instead is a flat response or a neutral response -- they're just blank -- or they show more anxiety."

For LeBourgeois' study, toddlers who normally napped were not allowed to, but she said a lack of sleep at any time could cause similar issues. The larger concern is the overall amount of time the child sleeps, not when the child sleeps.

"The real focus here is to understand how, when kids don't get enough sleep, do they respond emotionally to their world," she said. "And there are a number of ways kids don't get enough sleep."

Sleep deprivation can be caused by disorders, such as sleep apnea, as well as the difficult schedules of working parents or the relative noisiness of daycares.

Leigha Knopf, who works in the toddler room at the Homestar Child Development Center in south Boulder, said she's not surprised that a lack of sleep causes problems for tots.

"If our kids don't nap their normal amount of time, or if they don't nap at all, their frustration is increased, no matter what," she said. "It can be a task they've done a million times that they'll get frustrated with. They can complete the task but still become frustrated because it didn't happen the first time."

To prepare kids to sleep better at daycare, Knopf recommends that parents let their toddlers sleep at home with the door slightly open to desensitize them to a bit of noise and light.

©2012 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

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