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4 Ways Kids' Lack of Sleep Makes Your Life Hell

Photograph by Twenty20

My son is a sleeper. He always has been. I would love to take full credit for his love of sleep, but the truth is that he's just like his dad. He can sleep anywhere, at any time of day without any special sleep requests. His sister, on the other hand, will hold her eyelids open as long as humanly possible. She doesn't like to miss things. But that's another story.

The only catch about having the great sleeper is that any blip in the normal sleep routine can really shake things up. You can imagine my dismay when I saw his soccer schedule: Every Thursday night, he shaves off at least 30 minutes from his normal sleep schedule, and every Friday morning he lobbies for a four-day school week.

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We hear about the importance of sleep often. We know kids need sleep. We see what happens to them if they don't get enough sleep. And yet, sometimes it's hard to prioritize sleep.

I can't set the soccer schedule, and I'm not willing to take away the one sport that he loves because of the timing. So we'll get through 10 Thursdays of late nights and 10 Fridays of cranky mornings, and then we'll get back on track.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day (this includes naps), kids between the ages of 6 and 13 need nine to 11 hours and teens need eight to 10 hours.

Between school, sports and other activities, sometimes these numbers simply seem too high. We need to pay attention to them, though. According to the medical experts at SLEEP 2015 and this recap of the conference on The Huffington Post, sleep plays a vital role in the growth and development of kids.

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It's time to stop making excuses, fellow parents. We need to bring back sleep. Here are 4 big reasons why:

1. Sleep debt causes inattention and aggression

We send our kids off to school each day with full bellies and plenty of food to make it through 6+ hours of learning. But is this enough? No. While a nutritious breakfast certainly feeds the brain and prepares kids for the day ahead, only 11 hours of sleep can consistently get them through with focus.

When kids are low on sleep, they are also low on attention. Unlike tired, spaced out adults, under-slept kids are more likely to present as hyper, impulsive and even aggressive.

2. Sleep debt impacts mood

When adults are low on sleep they tend to feel irritable. Every little thing seems to go wrong at once. Kids feel that, too, only their moods tend to be a little bit bigger. Whereas a tired adult might snap at someone who bothers them, a tired child gets face-to-face and yells. Whereas a tired adult might shed a few tears, a tired child is likely to have a full-blown meltdown.

Lack of sleep can lead to feelings of anxiety, sadness and increased frustration. It's hard to learn and play under those conditions.

3. Sleep debt leads to behavioral problems

Is your child talking back? Being aggressive or just generally unpleasant to a sibling? Did you get an email that he isn't listening in class? Or that he no longer follows directions?

Lack of sleep causes behavioral problems. It's hard to listen, follow directions and maintain a kind demeanor when you're low on sleep. Investigate your child's sleep habits before you look for other causes.

4. Sleep debt makes you sick

When you're low on sleep, your immunity tanks. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also impact how quickly you recover from a virus.

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We all know classrooms are full of germs. I don't care how often those doorknobs are cleaned with antibacterial wipes, when cold and flu season hits, germs are everywhere.

The best way to build your kids up, it seems, is to start with a good night's sleep. No more excuses. Get to it!

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