According to a new study, childhood sleep problems that persist through adolescence may adversely affect cognitive abilities.
The study led by Dr. Naomi Friedman, senior research associate at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, showed that children whose sleep problems persisted across development had poorer executive functioning at age 17, compared with those whose problems decreased to a greater extent.
Sleep problems as early as age 9, but particularly around age 13, showed significant associations with later executive functions.
During the study, the research team looked at specific sleep problems: nightmares, sleep talking, sleepwalking, bedwetting, sleeping less or more than most children during the day or night, trouble sleeping and being overtired.
Friedman said that the results showed that certain sleep problems in children might affect later executive functioning more than others.
"When we looked at each of the seven sleep problems separately, we found that changes in levels of 'sleeping more than other children' and 'being overtired' were the strongest predictors of later executive control, and developmental trajectories of nightmares and 'trouble sleeping' were the weakest predictors," said Friedman.
Executive functions are cognitive-control mechanisms that help regulate thoughts and actions.
The authors note that an association of sleep problems with executive functioning may be particularly important, as executive functions are considered key mechanisms in many models of cognitive development and disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse problems, mood problems and more general problems of externalising behaviour.
The study appears in the journal Sleep.