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Some School Bullies Might Just Be Sleep-Deprived

Some School Bullies Might Just Be Sleep-Deprived

Everyone, at one point or another, experienced school bullies.  Some of us may even have been those bullies, although we don’t like to admit to it now.  But it’s generally accepted that bullies are not sympathetic characters, and that their behavior is difficult to defend.

A new study from 341 Michigan elementary schoolchildren may, however, overturn some of the stereotypes of school bullies.  According to Tara Parker-Pope, who wrote about the study for her New York Times “Well” blog, the problem of bullying may be better addressed, not by punishment and disciplinary action, but by “paying attention to some of the unique health issues associated with aggressive behavior.”

What are these health issues?  One of them is sleep-deprivation.  The children who had behavioral issues, which sometimes included bullying but also could include general classroom disruptiveness, were twice as likely as other children to have “symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing.”  This means that the children whom parents and teachers identified as having issues with bullying or disruptiveness were probably not sleeping as well as children who were better behaved.

This, of course, is still just a correlation, and there is no proof that bullying and sleep deprivation are causally related.  But there does seem to be evidence pointing in that direction.  According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Louise O’Brien, “The hypothesis is that impaired sleep does affect areas of the brain. If that’s disrupted, then emotional regulation and decision-making capabilities are impaired.”

She added, “Our schools do push the importance of healthy eating and exercise, but this study highlights that good sleep is just as essential to a healthy lifestyle.”

One of the most important take-aways from this preliminary study is the importance of sleep for children and adolescents.  Even as a college student, my academic work and overall happiness improved dramatically when I decided that I simply had no excuse to neglect getting seven or eight hours of sleep.  And it certainly makes sense to me that bullies or disruptive children would be more irritable and aggressive if they weren’t sleeping as well.  It’s too early to draw a conclusive connection between sleep deprivation and bullying, but this study is a reminder that if children and adolescents (as well as most people) aren’t sleeping enough, they can’t perform to their highest potential, either academically or socially.

 

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120 comments

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4:53AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

thank you for sharing

2:49PM PST on Mar 3, 2012

Perhaps "nap time" needs to be continued beyond kindergarten.

4:23PM PST on Nov 18, 2011

thanks

5:22PM PDT on Oct 25, 2011

This might have something to do with it, but I believe that there are more underlying reasons for this type of behaviour.

5:29AM PDT on Aug 24, 2011

Someone suffering from sleep apnea is not only sleep deprived but also oxygen deprived. No wonder they are more likely to be cranky and get in trouble at school over that crankiness.

6:00AM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

More sleep so the body can repair itself is a good idea. Pointing out that bullies don't have enough sleep is just an excuse for behavior that tears down another human being.

12:44AM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

Sorry - aggressive responses (can't let a spelling error go out to the Universe!)

12:42AM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

I work in schools and have found (anecdotally) that there is a distict group of sleep deprived students who present with ADHD types of behaviour, agressive responses to teachers and peers and, naturally, poor attendance - a bad combination for success at school. These kids are up late texting their friends, on facebook or playing computer games. They also have far too many 'energy' drinks in their bodies. The younger students wake slightly & stir, then instead of returning to sleep, they watch TV, as many have fallen asleep in bed with the TVs turned on. They are not necessarily bullies, but they are presenting with several behavioural difficulties, as mentioned above.

8:16PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

This is bull. It says sleep deprivation can contribute to aggressiveness.Mean and aggressive are two different things.Being aggressive and deliberately going out of your way to hurt someone,physically or verbally,are two different things.If not getting enough sleep makes a person aggressive,that does not mean they will now want to put someone down and hurt them,which is exactly what bullies are out to do.I had sleep troubles in school due to depression and I was not a bully-I was the bullied.Such a load of crap.

2:06PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

Whether or not sleep deprivation is a significant factor in violent behavior, the truth is that the bully has a very specific psychological profile. Socially responsible people has to be informed about it. For a start: the bully is a person with no self-esteem and no self-confidence, with deep feelings of inadequacy. His or her actions can cause the person being bullied to develop severe Post Traumatic Stress Desorder (PTSD). The following document provides an excellent overview of the issue. Please read it and pass it on: http://www.hcib.ch/topic/bullying.pdf

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