- Inadequate sleep has always been associated with chronic problems such as obesity in children.
- Children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function during their later school years.
- The lack of sleep affected executive function such as attention, working memory, reasoning and problem solving and caused behavioral problems in mid-childhood.
Children aged 3 to 7 years who fail to get adequate sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and peer relationships in mid-childhood.
The study was conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital.
Study conducted surveys among parents and teachers regarding executive function which includes attention, working memory, reasoning and problem solving and behavioral problems in 7-year-old children depending on how much sleep they regularly received at younger ages.
"We found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7," says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children , who led the study.
"The associations between insufficient sleep and poorer functioning persisted even after adjusting for several factors that could influence the relationship." Taveras added.
Finding the Association
The current study analyzed data from 1,046 children enrolled in Project Viva which is a long-term investigation of the health impacts of several factors during pregnancy and after birth.
For the study, mothers were interviewed when their children were around 6 months, 3 years and 7 years old and they were asked to complete questionnaires when the children were aged 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6.
When children were around 7 years, mothers and teachers were sent survey instruments to evaluate each child's executive function and behavioral issues including emotional symptoms and problems with conduct or peer relationships.
The recommended amount of sleep for specific age categories were:
- 6 months to 2 years- 12 hours or longer
- 3-4 years- 11 hours or longer
- 5-7 years- 10 hours or longer
Factors associated with poor sleep were :
- children living in homes with lower household incomes
- lower education levels among mothers
- more television viewing
- higher body mass index
- being African American
Insufficient sleep during infancy (ages 6 months to 2 years) was not associated with reduced neurobehavioral functioning in mid-childhood. But researchers cautioned that sleep levels during infancy often predict sleep levels at later ages, supporting the importance of promoting a good quantity and quality of sleep from the youngest ages.
"Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic health problems -- including obesity -- in both mothers and children," explains Taveras, who is a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
"The results of this new study indicate that one way in which poor sleep may lead to these chronic disease outcomes is by its effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods. It will be important to study the longer-term effects of poor sleep on health and development as children enter adolescence, which is already underway through Project Viva." Taveras added.
The findings are reported online in the journal Academic Pediatrics.
- Elsie Taveras et al. Prospective Study of Insufficient Sleep and Neurobehavioral Functioning among School-Age Children. Academic Pediatrics; (2017) doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2017.02.001
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