If your child has frequent health or emotional problems, consider that a lack of sleep may be all or at least part of the problem.

Every function in the body is affected by sleep. And for a child, the risks of sleep deprivation are much more serious than simply waking up in a grumpy mood. Research shows that children with sleep disturbances have more medical problems — such as allergies, ear infections, and hearing problems. They are also more likely to have social and emotional problems.

There are a whole host of health problems that consistently have been associated with inadequate sleep.

Sleep loss is linked to obesity and diabetes. Inadequate sleep may cause children to overeat. University of Chicago researchers reported in the December 2004 Annals of Internal Medicine that a lack of sleep changes the circulating levels of the hormones that regulate hunger, boosting appetite and a person’s preference for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods.

Many physicians believe that sleep loss also can affect the ability to metabolize sugar and trigger insulin resistance, a well-known factor for diabetes. In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of childhood obesity as well as type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.

Sleep loss is associated with anxiety and depression. Insomnia is a significant risk factor for depression. It also contributes to anxiety by raising cortisol, the stress hormone. We have known for some time that depression and anxiety can contribute to insomnia; however, recent research has shown that insomnia often precedes the first episode of depression or of a relapse. Physicians are looking more closely at the importance of solving sleep problems in order to eliminate or decrease the severity of anxiety or emerging depression.

Sleep loss may impede physical development. The highest levels of growth hormone are released into the bloodstream during deep sleep. Because sleep deprivation results in a decrease in the release of growth hormone, height and growth may be affected by a lack of sleep.

Sleep loss affects immunity. During sleep, interleukin-1, an immune- boosting substance, is released. Several nights of poor rest can hamper a child’s immunity.

Sleep-deprived children are more accident-prone. Lack of sleep adversely affects motor skills. Dr. Carl Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institute of Health says, “A tired child is an accident waiting to happen.” Bicycle injuries and accidents on playground equipment are more likely to occur when a child is sleep-deprived. And unfortunately, the stakes get continually higher when poor sleeping habits continue and the accident-prone child becomes the teenager who is driving while drowsy.

Sleep loss may affect the response to vaccinations. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (September 25, 2002) reported that sleep deprivation limited the effectiveness of the flu shot.

About the author: Dubbed “The Dream Maker” by People magazine, Patti Teel is a former teacher and the author of The Floppy Sleep Game Book, which gives parents techniques to help their children relax, deal with stress, or fall asleep. Visit Patti online at pattiteel.com to subscribe to her free newsletter.