For optimal brain function, children need better sleep

Key Takeaways

  • Less than 30% of high school kids get the recommended amount of sleep each night.
  • Technology and extracurricular activities make it difficult for some kids to get the rest they need.
  • Not getting enough sleep affects brain function in children.

In 2009, about 30% of high school students got the recommended amount of sleep each night. By 2015, it had dropped to 27%. That means roughly two out of three young adults aren’t getting enough sleep

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 9 to 12 hours of sleep for children ages 6 to 12. In addition to leading to low energy, fatigue and moodiness, Lack of sleep can also affect children physically and mentally.

“Sleep is important not only for memory comfort but also for clearing the metabolic waste the brain produces during the day. For children, sleep is the peak time for growth factor secretion,” explains Jay Wang, PhD, professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Wang is the lead author of a new study that looks at the role of sleep deprivation on children’s neurocognitive health now and in the future.

As we look at the effects of sleep on brain function, we examine how important a good night’s sleep can be, the barriers that prevent children from getting enough rest, and how parents can ensure that the importance of sleep for children is not overlooked.

What the study says

The researchers wanted to find out not only the effects of sleep deprivation on brain function but also how long the effects last. They collected data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study on more than 8,000 children ages 9 to 10.

The data were drawn from 21 study sites in the United States and divided into two categories. Children getting enough sleep, 9 hours per day, or less than that amount were classified as having insufficient sleep.

For both groups, the researchers looked at the children’s mental health, behavioral problems and brain function. They looked at the same children’s results two years later. published Lancet Child and Adolescent HealthResults show negative neurocognitive effects due to sleep deprivation.

She Wang, Ph.D

We found that insufficient sleep had negative effects on brain structure, connectivity, behavior, cognition, and mental health, and that these effects persisted two years later.

— Jay Wang, Ph.D

“We found that insufficient sleep had negative effects on brain structure, connectivity, behavior, cognition, and mental health, and that these effects persisted after two years,” said Dr. Wang.

He noted that the results are worrying for children and parents. “Although the effects are still modest, they can last for a long time, accumulate or even become permanent if insufficient sleep conditions are not changed. Eventually, they can lead to irreversible health problems in adults,” advises Dr. Wang.

Although the study was limited to children aged 9 and 10, sleep deprivation is a problem for children of all ages. Children who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of poor mental health, diabetes and obesity. Academic and athletic performance is also affected. Young children who are sleep deprived are more likely to have impaired neurobehavioral functioning.

Helping children get enough sleep requires looking at what is keeping them up at night.

Reasons why children sleep less

With options from dance to drama and sports to chess, there’s no limit to the number of clubs and organizations a child can join. Besides the activities that keep them busy, technology also fights for their time. Research shows that 60% of children under the age of 12 use smartphones; 44% use a desktop, laptop, or gaming device. Children have to spend more of their time, which can lead to less rest.

“Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Rapid changes in brain structure and function make it highly vulnerable to changes such as sleep deprivation. The associated negative effects may accumulate or become magnified, leading to irreversible changes,” noted Dr. Wang.

It’s not just long-term issues that are a cause for concern.

“Insufficient daily sleep has consequences. “The two primary things are that you don’t think clearly, you’re a little foggy, (and) … it affects your mood,” explains Mary Alvard, Ph.D., co-author of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens: A Guide to Breaking Nine Thinking Habits.” The workbook that’s holding you back.”

Parents have an important role to play in helping children understand that sleep is not expendable; Instead, it is an important part of healthy development.

Helping children get what they need

When children are young, parents usually set parameters for bedtime and technology use. Creating these boundaries early helps set expectations for the future.

Helping kids understand the importance of prioritizing and scheduling is not only helpful for getting enough sleep, but it’s also a valuable life skill.

“I think they need to be aware of how you balance activities and school requirements. Because many children are overscheduled at this time,” says Dr. Alvard.

Mary Alvard, Ph.D

Really the bedroom or wherever you sleep is (should be) conducive to sleep—and only sleep.

– Mary Alvard, Ph.D

He points out that technology management is also important. “Kids and parents really (need) to make sure there are no curtains in the bedroom. Really the bedroom or wherever you sleep (should be) conducive to sleep—and only sleep,” she adds.

Experts say other tips include making sure their bedroom is dark enough, quiet and conducive to sleep; Avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon or evening; And there is a time to sleep before bed. Breathing exercises, reading a book, or calming music can help.

Ultimately, children are going to follow their parents’ example. And this is where they can really have an impact.

“It has to be modeled for them. They need to talk about how important sleep is. Parents are role models. It’s not just what we say, it’s what we do,” concluded Dr. Alvard.

What does this mean for you?

It’s hard for adults to function on just a few hours of sleep. For children, who are often less able to cope with the mental and emotional toll a lack of sleep can take, it’s even harder.

Additionally, the study noted, sleep deprivation affects a child’s brain function, mood, and behavior. Parents can set a good example, help children prioritize their schedules, and emphasize the importance of getting a good night’s rest.

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