• EQ Explorers Team

How Sleep Patterns Affect Your Child’s EQ

You probably don’t need us to tell you that sleep is important for your kids. You’ve dealt with plenty of tired, cranky toddlers and teens to understand that poor sleep has a negative affect.

Parents are often quick to guess that a missed nap or a shortened night’s sleep is the explanation for bad behavior. But have you ever wondered why?

It turns out that poor sleep compromises emotional intelligence in toddlers and teens alike.

What constitutes “poor sleep?”

When researchers study sleep, they primarily look at three things: the quality of sleep, the amount of sleep, and the timing of sleep. Several behaviors can be indicators of poor sleep: struggle sleeping through the night, sleeping less than 9-11 hours a night, going to bed and waking up at different times on weekdays and weekends, etc. If your child’s sleep patterns are inconsistent and unhealthy, improvements can be made. Research has shown that parental monitoring of sleep is essential and impactful for kids.

How much sleep does my child really need?

The American Association of Sleep Medicine has studied sleep duration in connection with long-term health and has recommended a healthy range of hours for children of all ages. These recommendations are based on a 24 hour period.

  • 4-12 month old infants need 12-16 hours of sleep

  • 1-2 year olds need 11-14 hours of sleep

  • 3-5 year olds need 10-13 hours of sleep

  • 6-12 year olds need 9-12 hours of sleep

  • 13-18 year olds need 8-10 hours of sleep

How does poor sleep affect my child?

It’s easy to notice the physical consequences of poor sleep: inability to stay awake during the day, lower than usual energy, and a higher likelihood of eating unhealthy foods. Our bodies immediately try to compensate for any inconsistency or lack in our sleep. Strong correlations have been found between sleep and physical health in kids. When kids get less sleep, they’re more likely to be—or eventually become—overweight. Sedentary behavior is encouraged by exhaustion.

If your kids are tired, not only are they less likely to make healthy nutrition choices, they’re also less likely to play and be active. Even children’s sensory-motor skills suffer from sleep deprivation.

In regards to cognitive function, researchers have found that sleepiness and irregular bedtimes have a strong correlation to lower academic performance—more specifically, lower GPAs. When children have inconsistent or unhealthy sleep patterns, their ability to retain and process new information is impaired. Problems with sleep are also connected to children’s perception of their academic performance, and may result in a negative attitude towards school and their teachers.

Yes, children’s academic achievement is significantly affected by their sleep patterns.

Sleep and EQ

How does sleep impact your child’s EQ? In general, poor sleep has been found to negatively impact emotional regulation which, in turn, can lead to less prosocial behavior. Problem solving and reasoning abilities—key EQ skills—are particularly sensitive to deficient sleep.

If kids struggle to problem solve and reason, they’ll have a hard time managing and responding to their own and other’s emotions.

Outcomes like behavioral issues and psychological symptoms such as increased anxiety and depression are also common to sleep deprivation. In fact, one study found that children ages six to eleven who got less than seven and a half hours of sleep had more anxiety, depression, and learning problems five years later. Another study found that sleep deprivation was associated with socio-emotional problems and behavioral issues that warranted professional help.

If children develop and maintain unhealthy patterns while they're young, they’re more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, have lower self esteem, and become more involved in risky behaviors in the future.

When children have poor sleep patterns that often result in sleep deprivation, their ability to emotionally regulate is significantly impaired. When they experience intense emotions, they are more likely to respond in irresponsible ways. And sometimes, no matter how well you teach them to effectively manage their emotions, when running on little sleep their brains just don’t have the capacity to enact regulatory behaviors.

Try to view monitoring your child’s sleep as an investment in their EQ.

Encouraging healthy sleep behaviors will affect every dimension of their life and will put them in a position to use and strengthen their emotional intelligence.


Mindell, Jodi A., et al. “Sleep and Social-Emotional Development in Infants and Toddlers.” Sleep and Developmental Psychopathology, 2018, pp. 67–77., doi:10.4324/9781351008921-7.

Perfect, Michelle M., et al. “The Contribution Of Sleep Problems To Academic And Psychosocial Functioning.” Psychology in the Schools, vol. 51, no. 3, 2014, pp. 273–295., doi:10.1002/pits.21746.

Soffer-Dudek, Nirit, et al. “Poor Sleep Quality Predicts Deficient Emotion Information Processing over Time in Early Adolescence.” Sleep, vol. 34, no. 11, 2011, pp. 1499–1508., doi:10.5665/sleep.1386.

Spruyt, Karen. “A Review of Developmental Consequences of Poor Sleep in Childhood.” Sleep Medicine, vol. 60, 2019, pp. 3–12., doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2018.11.021.