Children Who Don't Get Enough Sleep Could Be Hurting Their Development

By Medscape Staff

September 14, 2022

Elementary school-age children who get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night have significant differences in certain brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence, and well-being compared with those who get adequate sleep for their age, according to researchers with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

What to know:

  • Early adolescence is a crucial period for neurocognitive development, and during a 2-year study it was found that insufficient sleep in children correlated with greater mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors, as well as cognitive difficulties with memory, problem solving, and decision making.

  • More than 8300 children aged 9-10 years were enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which examined MRI images, medical records, and surveys completed by the participants and their parents at the time of enrollment and at a 2-year follow-up visit at 11-12 years of age.

  • Children who had less than 9 hours per night had less gray matter or smaller volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and inhibition control compared with those with healthy sleep habits, differences that persisted after 2 years.

  • Participants in the sufficient sleep group tended to gradually sleep less over 2 years, which is normal as children move into their teen years, whereas sleep patterns of participants in the insufficient sleep group did not change much.

  • Children in recent generations often report sleeping less than the suggested 9-12 hours of sleep per day recommended for 6- to 12-year-olds.

This is a summary of the article "Children Who Lack Sleep May Experience Detrimental Impact on Brain and Cognitive Development That Persists Over Time," published by Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on July 29. The full article can be found on thelancet.com.

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