Sleep-Restricted Toddlers Show Similar Behaviors To Depressed and Anxious Adults


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Tired children show similarities to adults with mood disorders: Photo by Eguirald

Sleepy Toddlers Relationship To Adult Disorders

The researchers noticed the behaviors of the toddlers were similar to adults dealing with anxiety or depression. The results of the sleep-restricted toddlers showed potential to develop into mood disorders later in life. The theory is that behavior and habits are learned during the first four years of life, and the restriction of sleep in a toddler can alter brain function and patterns, creating different connections which affect the person during their adult years.

Decoded Science spoke with Dr. LeBourgeois regarding the children’s reactions in the study. She stated,

When viewing neutral and negative pictures after being well-rested (having a nap), they showed more confused facial expressions.  Remember, confusion is an adaptive response when something does not “add up.”  So kids are better at understanding something does not make sense when they have sufficient sleep.  

The key here is that kids miss out on sleep in a variety of ways.  We tested only one of these ways – taking away a nap from a group of little ones who need naps to make sure they get adequate sleep each day.

When asked about the connection between sleep restricted toddlers and adult mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, Dr. LeBourgeois continued,

The increase in negativity and decrease in positivity we saw when little ones did not get enough sleep is consistent with symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are both significant mood disorders in the general public.  Young children who have emotional and behavioral problems are more likely to develop these sorts of mood disorders as they mature than little ones who don’t have emotional/behavioral problems.

Sleep and Mood Disorders: More Study Needed

Additional studies are planned to look into sleep restriction and mood disorders, including repeating this study with a larger group of children. These studies may unlock methods that can reduce the amount of depression and anxiety in future generations without needing pharmaceuticals.


Berger, R., Miller, A., Seifer, R., Cares, S., LeBourgeois, M. Acute sleep restriction effects on emotion responses in 30- to 36-month-old children. (2011)Journal of Sleep Research. Accessed January 8, 2012.

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