• Robb G. Best

Is Your Child Sleeping Enough?

As adults, we don’t need to be persuaded to seek a good night’s sleep. That well-rested, energetic feeling is reward enough. But what about kids?

Research shows that children who sleep enough (9 to 12 hours, depending on age) are more curious, more conscientious, and more likely overall to flourish. They’re less likely to have depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. That’s why it’s such bad news that a recent study finds over half of U.S. kids between ages six and seventeen aren’t getting enough sleep.

The study surveyed the caregivers of 49,050 children about their children’s sleeping habits, as well as the child’s waking behavior. Researchers controlled for variables like age, federal poverty level, and adverse childhood experiences like neglect or trauma. It was found that only 47.6% of the children regularly achieved the recommended nine nightly hours of sleep on weeknights.

The results were noticeable. Compared to their sleep-deprived peers, the well-rested children were found to be 44% more likely to demonstrate interest and curiosity in learning new things, 33% more likely to complete all required homework, 28% more likely to care about doing well in school, 14% more likely to finish tasks they started, and 12% more likely to fulfill all of these measures.

“As healthcare providers, we want every child to reach his or her full potential,” said study author Dr. Tsao. “Our research shows that children who get enough sleep are more likely to demonstrate measures of childhood flourishing in comparison to children with insufficient sleep.”

However, the problem may be even more serious. A joint study by Professor Jianfeng Feng, Professor Edmund Rolls, Dr. Wei Cheng and colleagues from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science and Fudan University looked at 11,000 children between the ages of 9 and 11.

Here, it was found that measures of depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and poor cognitive behavior were all associated with getting less sleep. The children with shorter sleep duration were found to have lower brain volume in several critical areas, including the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making skills.

What can be done?

SleepFoundation.org features handy tips for getting children of all ages to sleep better. Consistent sleep schedules and soothing bedtime routines are helpful to toddlers and preschoolers, while school-aged children should sleep in a cool, dark room with no TV, and avoid caffeine.

By building excellent childhood sleep habits, we can not just boost school performance and mood, but lay the foundation for better sleep in adulthood, creating a whole new generation of more engaged, curious, and calmer sleepers. Now, there's a relaxing thought.

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