Home Doctor NewsMental health Getting less than nine hours of sleep can cause serious mental problems in children, study suggests

Getting less than nine hours of sleep can cause serious mental problems in children, study suggests

by Pragati Singh
children

A new study found that obtaining fewer than nine hours of sleep every day causes cognitive impairment, mental issues, and reduced grey matter in brain areas.

According to a new study led by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers, elementary school-age children who get less than nine hours of sleep per night have significant differences in certain brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to those who get the recommended nine to 12 hours of sleep per night. In those who lacked sleep, such changes were associated with increased mental health issues such as sadness, anxiety, and impulsive conduct.

Inadequate sleep has also been connected to memory, problem-solving, and decision-making issues. The findings were published in the journal The American Academy of Sleep Medicine today. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises that children aged 6 to 12 years old sleep 9 to 12 hours each night on a regular basis to support optimal health. There have been no research that have looked at the long-term effects of poor sleep on the neurocognitive development of pre-teens.

Inadequate sleep has also been connected to memory, problem-solving, and decision-making issues. The findings were published in the journal The American Academy of Sleep Medicine today. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises that children aged 6 to 12 years old sleep 9 to 12 hours each night on a regular basis to support optimal health. There have been no research that have looked at the long-term effects of poor sleep on the neurocognitive development of pre-teens.

The researchers evaluated data from over 8,300 youngsters aged 9 to 10 years who were participating in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) project to perform the study. They looked at MRI scans, medical records, and surveys filled out by participants and their parents during enrolment and during a two-year follow-up visit when they were 11 to 12 years old. The ABCD research, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the biggest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

“We found that children who had insufficient sleep, less than nine hours per night, at the beginning of the study had less grey matter or smaller volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory and inhibition control compared to those with healthy sleep habits,” said study corresponding author Ze Wang, PhD, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at UMSOM. “These differences persisted after two years, a concerning finding that suggests long term harm for those who do not get enough sleep.”

This is one of the first studies to show the long-term effects of sleep deprivation on neurocognitive development in children. According to Dr. Wang and his colleagues, it also offers strong support for existing sleep guidelines in youngsters.

The research team discovered that individuals in the sufficient sleep group increasingly slept less over two years, which is normal as children enter their adolescent years, but those in the insufficient sleep group’s sleep habits did not alter significantly. The researchers took into account socioeconomic class, gender, puberty status, and other characteristics that may influence how much a kid sleeps and how the brain and intellect function.

“We tried to match the two groups as closely as possible to help us more fully understand the long-term impact on too little sleep on the pre-adolescent brain,” Dr. Wang said. “Additional studies are needed to confirm our finding and to see whether any interventions can improve sleep habits and reverse the neurological deficits.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to promote good sleep habits in their children. Their tips include making sufficient sleep a family priority, sticking with a regular sleep routine, encouraging physical activity during the day, limiting screen time and eliminating screens completely an hour before bed.

The study was funded by NIH. Fan Nils Yang, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Wang’s laboratory is a study co-author. Weizhen Xie, PhD, a researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is also a study co-author. UMSOM faculty members Thomas Ernst, PhD, and Linda Chang, MD, MS, are co-principal investigators of the ABCD study at the Baltimore site but were not involved in the data analysis of this new study.

“This is a crucial study finding that points to the importance of doing long-term studies on the developing child’s brain,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Sleep can often be overlooked during busy childhood days filled with homework and extracurricular activities. Now we see how detrimental that can be to a child’s development.”

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