The Negative Impacts of Bullying on Sleep

Written by Kristina Miladinovic, Sleepline.com

What’s the probability of a class bully to be sleep-deprived and too tired to make good decisions? As scientists tell us, it’s very high. Sleep problems can appear before bullying and they aggravate if more bullying takes place. Both bullies and victims suffer from irregular or insufficient sleep. Learning about good sleep habits and how to instill them helps bullies become less aggressive. On the other hand, victims are more likely to cope with stress better after a good night’s sleep.

Bullying and sleep – the connection

Those who bully typically have untidy sleep schedules. Our sleep has to be long enough, of good quality, and a part of a routine. This means going to bed and getting up at approximately the same time. If the last criterion is not met, the other two can hardly be. 

Poor sleep makes us less sensitive to others and more sensitive to things that happen to us – we deal with stress poorly. This is how bullies become more aggressive and victims become and remain victims.

That’s right, children can become victims if they look tired and “weak” to bullies, which makes them an easy target.

What sleep problems do young people involved in bullying have?

Every child who is involved in bullying experiences sleep problems. This includes bullies, victims, and bully-victims (those who bully and are bullied by other children or adults). These are the most common sleep problems:

  • Insomnia (they can’t fall asleep or remain asleep throughout the night)
  • Bedtime fears (they are afraid of the dark or wake up and are afraid to go back to sleep)
  • Short sleep time (children from 6 to 13 need about 9-11 hours of sleep, and teens aged 14 to 17 need between 8-10 hours). If you are unsure your child is getting enough sleep, seek professional advice.
  • Restless legs syndrome (this disease “doesn’t allow” a child to rest or relax (especially at night) because if he or she attempts to rest, there will be uncomfortable sensations in their legs, urging them to move. This disease makes falling asleep very difficult)
  • Parasomnias (abnormalities like sleepwalking, night terrors, bedwetting, and teeth grinding)
  • Non-restorative sleep (poor quality sleep that does not offer a feeling of freshness and restfulness after sleep)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (fatigue, poor concentration, lack of energy and motivation)
  • Sleep-disordered breathing (especially obstructive sleep apnea whose symptoms are snoring and a short stop in breathing which causes waking up. It’s a common problem among bullies and children with ADHD)

Chronic sleep problems are likely to cause anxiety, depression, and lead to poor memory and attention. All of these may severely affect a child – a student who enjoyed learning and going to school may become distant from social activities, with poorer grades and worse sports achievements. 

Poor sleep may cause bullying

When there is more bullying, there are more sleep problems for both bullies and victims. The percentage of children who never experience bullying and have sleep problems is about 25%. However, about 50% of children who cause or experience bullying more than three times a month have sleep problems, and it doesn’t matter if they are a bully or a victim.

So here we need to stop and think – is the act of bullying what causes bullies to sleep poorly after they come home, or is poor sleep making them more aggressive? 

Some studies say that poor sleep can be a trigger of bullying. Someone may have genetic or other predispositions towards aggressiveness but still manage to behave properly when well-rested. This may not be the case after several nights of insufficient sleep. When we are sleep-deprived, we can’t control our emotions well. This means a lack of proper self-conduct for an aggressive person. 

Staying up late often results in non-restorative and insufficient sleep. This is one of the behavioral problems that cause poor sleep – others include external factors such as an abusive family or unacceptable sleeping conditions, like a room that’s too bright, loud or hot. Various health factors or long-lasting untreated sleep disturbances like sleep-disordered breathing can be a cause.

Sleep problems impair the way our brain processes and responds to emotions and stress.

Being introduced to behavioral therapy helps bullies learn how to properly behave during the day and at night, prior to bedtime. This therapy points out all the bad practices and offers healthy choices as a solution. Once good and healthy sleep is established, bullies become less aggressive and more sociable.
Some of the ways to sleep better if you are a bully or being bullied include avoiding social media, TV, computers and other electronic devices in the evening, keeping a regular sleep/wake schedule (even on weekends and holidays), and sleeping in a cool and dark environment.


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