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.
- 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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