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Bullying and Sleep Problems: Is There a Link?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is part of a series marking National Sleep Awareness Week. Learn more at the National Sleep Foundation.

There’s nothing like being overtired to make just about anyone cranky and distracted. If you’re a parent, you probably know this all too well. Unfortunately, many American children today also run chronically short on sleep, or even have sleep disorders. But some parents may not know their child is sleep-deprived, or may not realize just how important adequate sleep is to children’s health.

Now a study in the journal Sleep Medicine connects sleep disturbances in children with a problem that’s been getting a lot of attention lately: bullying. Researchers asked the parents of about 350 school-aged children to describe their children’s sleep habits and levels of daytime sleepiness. Parents also reported whether the children snored, since snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, which causes disturbed breathing and frequent waking. Then parents and teachers rated the children’s behavior, including any tendencies towards bullying or aggression towards others.

The results showed that children who had behavioral problems or were described as bullies were also more likely to have symptoms of sleep problems, such as frequent snoring or daytime fatigue. It wasn’t clear whether these children had clinical sleep disturbances or just didn’t get enough rest. But whatever the reason behind their lack of sleep, it seemed to be associated with negative and even aggressive behavior during the day.

Sleep needs vary by age, but experts say children between 5 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours a night, while teens need at least 9 hours. Parents can help improve their child’s “sleep hygiene” by removing TVs and computers from the bedroom, keeping to a consistent schedule, and avoiding caffeine. Older children and teens should turn phones and other handheld electronic devices over to parents at a predetermined time every night.

Sleep impacts multiple area of your child’s life, including weight, mood, cognitive development, and, as seen in this research, behavior. It’s worth prioritizing. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, consult your pediatrician.

(Photo credit: india sad by Anthony Kelly. CC BY 2.0.)

Further Reading

Could My Child Have Sleep Apnea? (from the National Sleep Foundation)

Your Child: Sleep Problems (University of Michigan)


National Sleep Foundation. (n.d., a). Children and sleep. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d., b). Teens and sleep. Retrieved from

 O’Brien, L. M., Lucas, N. H., Felt, B. T., Hoban, T. F., Ruzicka, D. L. Jordan, R., et al. (2011). Aggressive behavior, bullying, snoring, and sleepiness in schoolchildren. Sleep Medicine. Advance online publication.