How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Brain and Personality

If you have a very active baby like me, bedtime can become more tiring for you than them. I just couldn’t figure out how it was as easy as the first lever for my brother to put his daughter to sleep, but for me it would be more like the secret boss most players never defeat lol.

I found this information about how important sleep is to our little monsters and wanted to make sure to share it with my fellow fathers. Enjoy and I hope it helps!

What determines the personality and personal characteristics of the child?

The question of heredity (“She’s ornery cuz of her daddy!”) versus environment (“If his mother would’ve whooped his butt more, he wouldn’t be so bad”) underlies parents’ attempts to understand just how much influence they have in molding their child.

Today’s research is starting to see a more complex picture: the influence of heredity and environment effects on the child. Evidence suggests that the baby is born with genetic baggage that not only determines how he looks and his chances of suffering from various diseases but also significantly influences the character traits that he or she will develop.

Higher than usual energy, shyness or sociability, openness to new situations, and anxiety are among the traits that are related to the genetic mix with which babies enter the world. Many parents discover that their child has traits that are undesirable to them—especially if they remind them of qualities they dislike about their parents, their spouses, or themselves. Like having their mother’s attitude for example lol.

-The Relationship Between Temperament And Sleep-

Every parent knows the exact moment that he “is up past his bedtime.”

When scientists asked parents to describe this situation, some said that the child calms down, seems sleepy, falls asleep on his own, or asks directly or indirectly to go to bed. Other parents said that their child in this situation “climbs the walls,” “cries his eyes out,” “gets mad as hell,” “doesn’t want to listen,” or “simply laughs when told what to do.”

Clearly, babies and toddlers react to being tired in insanely different ways.

You can’t always tell a kid is tired just because they’re falling asleep in their cheerios.

Sometimes it can be just the opposite.

Some of the typical “negative” behaviors of the tired child can be characterized as behavior disorders.

There is starting to be more evidence pointing to a strong correlation between sleep and the development of the child’s personality traits.

Studies have shown that a baby who suffers from sleep disorders (difficulty falling asleep, for example, or having trouble sleeping through the night) tends to be “more difficult” in other behavioral domains.

In a study conducted in several sleep labs, scientists compared a group of 9-24 month old babies whose parents had come for a consultation about their children’s sleep problems with a control group of babies without sleep disorder – not surprisingly, what they found is significant differences in the traits that the mothers said their babies had.

The mothers completed a temperament questionnaire, which is a sort of “personality” test for young children.

The mothers rated their level of agreement with such sentences as “The child agrees to be dressed and undressed without protesting,” “The child responds strongly (screams, yells) when frustrated,” and “The child sits quietly when waiting to eat.”

In general, the mothers of babies with sleep problems described them as more demanding, complaining, annoying, negatively sensitive to different stimuli, and difficult to adapt to different situations, as compared with babies without sleep problems.

One of the traits measured in the temperament questionnaire is the degree of sensitivity or responsivity of the baby to different sensory stimuli (noise, temperature, taste, smell).

Some babies are very sensitive to any kind of sensory stimulus, and others are sensitive only to a specific type of sensation—for example, those who react to skin contact.

A wide range of babies do not respond in an outstanding way to sensory stimuli.

One of the hypotheses that the researcher William Carey examined in 1974 was that babies who suffer from hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli would tend to develop sleep difficulties.

Carey’s findings supported the hypothesis, and he claimed that the heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli is hereditary.

In order to fall asleep, the baby has to disassociate himself from the external environment and stop responding to people, noise, light, and temperature, and to disassociate from internal signals as well, such as pain, discomfort, and hunger. This ability to disassociate is most critical for maintaining uninterrupted sleep and for preventing awakenings in response to various stimuli.

A baby who is sensitive from birth to any internal or external stimulus will have trouble disassociating from environmental stimuli, which will interfere with his ability to relax and fall asleep easily and will cause him to awaken easily and frequently over the course of the night.

This link between sleep and behavior continues throughout later childhood.

Studies that examined school-aged children found a link between sleep disorders and problems with behavior and more general adaptation.

Sleep disorders are a big sign of stress and anxiety, depression, and adaptation problems.

One factor that strengthens a diagnosis of anxiety disorders in a child, for example, is the presence of a sleep disorder.

The close link between sleep disorders and behavior problems in children can be explained in a number of ways.


Perhaps a child born with a tendency toward problematic behavior develops sleep problems as well, as a result.  At the same time, it is reasonable to believe that significant sleep problems will lead to insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation, which may cause the child to be nervous, impatient, and harder to manage.

In addition, a third cause, such as incompatible parenting styles, may provoke or aggravate both behavior problems and sleep difficulties.

In treatment centers, scientists frequently come across babies or young children who are described by their parents as hyperactive.

The parents use this term casually, but professionals use it to diagnose a condition—the professional term is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder— that occurs only in older children.

These babies are described as especially active and restless and are said to demand attention constantly.

Often parents associate their child’s sleep difficulties with his excess of energy. Occasionally a parent says something like, “This boy is like a demon that won’t rest,” or “He is like the Energizer bunny; he keeps going and going and going.”

Although hyperactivity is diagnosed at a later age, there is evidence that most hyperactive children were overactive, restless babies, with difficult temperaments.

Again, we face a chicken-or-egg question: are these babies unable to sleep like “normal” babies because they are unusually active, or does their sleep problem underlie their “hyperactivity”?

In many cases sleep disruption appears to lead to “hyperactive” behavior patterns, even though no research has directly confirmed this fact.

More and more evidence demonstrates that lack of sleep may bring on behavior that resembles that of a hyperactive child.

Honestly we can all think of methods we use to keep ourselves awake when we are tired.

These methods include increasing our activity, fidgeting, fiddling with our hands or rubbing our face, and in my mom’s case, pinching herself.

In some cases treating the sleep disorder may spare the child from receiving unnecessary medication like Ritalin, which I have taken myself and is no fun at all. I mean who wants their kid to be a zombie!

-Intellectual Development-

Assessing intelligence in a baby is a very complex task.

Tests used on infants often fail when it comes to knowing how intelligent a person might become later in life.

The research on the relation between sleep and intellectual development has been stalled by this issue.

Efforts to study this issue have failed to provide a clear picture of the situation, and we need to call upon additional studies on older children and adults to help us consider the issue more clearly.

Scientists from the University of Connecticut in Evelyn Thoman’s group, which has contributed significantly to the study of infant sleep, examined this problem. They followed sleep of newborns over the course of their first two days of life and examined their development at the age of six months.

Special recording devices documented the babies’ sleep in hospital bassinets after birth.

The scientists then tested the mental, motor, and perceptual abilities of the babies at the age of six months, using the Bayley Test.

They found a link between sleeping habits of the newborns on their first day of life and their development six months later.

Some scientists found a link between sleep disorders in infancy, especially those that are caused by respiratory problems, and possible shortfalls in intellectual development and academic achievements at a later age.

Other studies, however, found no definitive link between sleep and later mental function.

Studies on older children and adults have shown that sleep disorders or insufficient sleep primarily interfere with cognitive abilities associated with attention and concentration.

People who don’t get enough sleep react more slowly and make more mistakes on tasks that demand attention and continuous concentration.

For example, mothers described their babies (aged nine to twenty-four months) who suffered from sleep problems as having trouble concentrating on play or a particular activity for an extended length of time, and as easily distracted by other stimuli.

These findings support the assumption that these critical functions for learning and academic achievement are adversely affected by sleep disorders among children.

This is why sleep is so important for your little angel, or monster in my case.

P.S. If you’re having trouble with getting your baby to sleep I recommend the Baby Sleep Miracle:


2 thoughts on “How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Brain and Personality

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s