Sleep disorders can lead to problem behaviours in children

06 October 2016
Baby sleeping

Children with poor sleep will struggle at school and are less likely to succeed in later life, says visiting child behaviour expert Gregory Hanley, Professor of Psychology at Western New England University.

Professor Hanley, also Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is visiting New Zealand for a series of public lectures and events hosted by the University of Auckland’s Applied Behaviour Analysis Programme in the School of Psychology.

Professor Hanley says a growing body of research shows child sleep problems such as taking too long to fall asleep or waking during the night can be linked to irritability and anxiety and to a higher risk of obesity.

Research into severe sleep problems among children with developmental disorders such as autism have shown they are more prone to self-injury, aggression and impulsivity, and these findings are helping behaviour analysts and psychologists understand sleep disorders in children more generally.

The effects of child sleep disorders can be significant, Professor Hanley says.

“One of the things that is not always taken into account when we talk about child sleep disorders is the secondary effects and those can include poor sleep quality for parents, family stress in general and marital discord.”

As in many countries around the world, New Zealand health professionals rely on drugs to treat sleep disorders, he says, while some simple interventions may be more appropriate and often more effective.

“Research shows that some common sense strategies such as monitoring bed times and limiting access to preferred leisure activity just before bedtime can be effective in dealing with sleep problems.”

The public lectures in this series are free and open to the public. Click here for more information.