Study Examines the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Children

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effects of sleep on adult functioning. Sleep deprivation, poor sleep, and sleep disturbances have been linked to memory and performance deficits, mood swings, and compromised cognitive functioning in adults. But less is known about the relationship between sleep and functioning in children. This is a crucial area of research because of the significant developmental milestones that occur during childhood. Rebecca G. Astill of the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience recently conducted a study researching the effects of sleep impairment on children.

Astill examined data from 86 studies involving more than 35,000 children ranging in age from 5 to 12. She looked at how sleep duration affected cognitive performance, school performance, behavior, intelligence, memory, and attention. She found that shorter episodes of sleep had negative effects on cognitive functioning in the children. Additionally, the children with the least amount of sleep exhibited poor academic performance and had more externalizing and internalizing traits. Surprisingly, lack of sleep did not affect memory or sustained attention, as it has been shown to in adults. Another finding of interest was that intelligence was not shown to be affected by sleep impairment or shorter sleep duration. This is significant because intelligence, attention, and memory capacity are all aspects of functioning that undergo critical developmental advances during the school years.

The results of this study highlight how important adequate sleep is for children. Although this research could not explain why shorter sleep periods had no influence on memory or attention, Astill believes that perhaps the cognitive development that occurs during waking hours plays a key role in these areas of functioning. Future research should explore this more. Clinically, these findings are relevant. “The suggestion that insufficient sleep in children affects cognitive performance and aggravates behavioral problems is of particular practical relevance given the increasing tendency towards curtailment of their sleep,” Astill said. These results, coupled with future work, will help illuminate the unique relationship between sleep and cognitive and behavioral development in children.


  1. Astill, Rebecca G., Kristiaan B. Van Der Heijden, Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn, and Eus JW Van Someren. Sleep, cognition, and behavioral problems in school-age children: A century of research meta-analyzed. Psychological Bulliten 138.6 (2012): 1109-138. Print.

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  • Matilda


    November 20th, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Although many parents keep an eye on and ensure their kids get adequate sleep,I think quality is just as important as quantity. Just enough sleep is not sufficient, the kids need quality sleep. So sugary foods and television before bedtime or junk at odd times can and will affect sleep quality and I’m sure sleep quality plays a role in development just as much as sleep quantity.

  • Avery


    November 20th, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I am convinced that most behavioral problesm especially inchildren are a direct result of getting too little consistent sleep at night.

    I hate going out late and seeing parents out with their young kids who probably should have been in the bed hours ago.

    I try not to judge but when they are out misbehaving I just want to tell then to take a look at the sleep that they are getting and really ask themselves if they think that it is adequate for any young child.

  • rudy


    November 20th, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    functioning optimally without enough sleep is a big deal for me as an will only struggle when that happens to them.that can also quickly set up a cycle wherein they are constantly sleeping for fewer hours an that may well result in downgrading their abilities.

    sleep is something that keys us recharge our batteries.and if a device in your pocket does not fiction without enough juice in the batteries then how do you expect yourself to?!

  • sammi j

    sammi j

    November 21st, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    Well late at night is sometimes the only time I get to see my kids. So judge me if you have to but if I want to see my children and that’s when it has to be, then yeah, we will all lose a little sleep over it.

  • alex tudor

    alex tudor

    November 21st, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have 24 hours of day light? Imagine all the productive hours…! Haha, yeah, that’s nature’s way of telling us just how important sleep is. And we know babies grow in their sleep, and that young children’s minds are still growing. So it would only take someone illogical to not ensure the kids get enough sleep.

  • SD


    November 22nd, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    “shorter episodes of sleep had negative effects on cognitive functioning in the children. Additionally, the children with the least amount of sleep exhibited poor academic performance and had more externalizing and internalizing traits. Surprisingly, lack of sleep did not affect memory or sustained attention, as it has been shown to in adults. Another finding of interest was that intelligence was not shown to be affected by sleep impairment or shorter sleep duration.”

    Why is it that some aspects of memory and functioning are affected and some others are not?I am highly interested in knowing about the same.

    Also, does a stumble in a few of these aspects and not the other hurt the person in the larger picture?How exactly does that happen?

  • keiran


    November 22nd, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    well sleep is just as important,if not more,for kids.and to emphasize,its not just the length of sleep but the quality of sleep that matters too.

    a growing mind needs enough nutrition and enough quality sleep.there is not two ways about it.also,the activities we do immediately before sleep can and will affect the quality of keep so I hope the parents keep an eye on that too.

  • jared


    March 19th, 2015 at 11:28 PM

    I’m 34 years old for most of my life I’ve suffered from insomnia for years I lived on about 10 hours of sleep a week once going 2 weeks without sleep but mostly 2 or 3 days I’ve tried most natural and some medical from melatonin to ambien, Lunesta and katomine in my late teens early twenties mixed lots of them with alcohol dangerously I welcomed any sort of sleep that’s when I tried live stock tranquilizers …mostly ending up in sleep walking or super vivid dreams of almost any thing possible I’m waking up doing almost anything from making dinner to stacking my neighbor stuff up outside of their house when they were gone it’s ruined my life numerous times from memory loss to hallucinations and a lack of emotions or ability to hold a simple conversation I’ve found sleep is like money everybody needs it some get more than others I’ve always worried about my health but come to realize meditation is the most effective against lack of sleep I lay in bed for hours thinking of nothing this is the hardest part leaving the day behind once my what I call my inner space is calm I imagine the night sky then our Solar System followed by the galaxy by the time I start seeing everything bam alarm clock goes off time to start the day at least I feel rested and over the last 6 year’s I’m up to about 25 hours of sleep a week with or without medication oh yeah absolutely no clock in bedroom expecially lit ones time watching will makes things worse

  • Judalynn Patton RN

    Judalynn Patton RN

    September 22nd, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Jared, I’ve had insomnia since a child until I was introduced to a ‘Wellness Home’ with a Japanese magnetic mattress and clean water system. I was on up to 12 different Rx at one time! Until I took back my health from the western medical model to a life free from toxins and sugar. I felt like I was dying inside. Since I was introduced to the ‘Wellness Home’ concept my life has changed dramatically. I could no longer work in the hospital based environment I was in after my back surgery and had to make a choice between wellness and sickness. I chose wellness and now help others find the same freedom I did. If you or anyone else would like to explore another way from western based sick care to a new opportunity toward total wellness and freedom from insomnia and chronic pain you can find me on Facebook.
    Here’s to your future in health,
    Judalynn Patton RN

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