You probably know that a good night’s sleep is key to your overall health, but a new study from the University of Maryland provides evidence that getting enough sleep important to children’s cognitive development and long-term mental health.
The university’s School of Medicine collected data focused on sleep and determined some of the effects insufficient rest has on elementary school-age children. The study found that children aged 6 to 12 years old 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.
“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.”
Such differences correlated with greater mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviors, in those who lacked sleep. Inadequate sleep was also linked to cognitive difficulties with memory, problem solving and decision making.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children thrive on a regular, consistent bedtime routine. Making sufficient sleep a family priority, encouraging activities throughout the day, monitoring screen time and creating a sleep supportive environment are all great habits to adopt.
For the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers examined data collected from more than 8,300 children aged 9 to 10 years old. They looked at MRI images, medical records and surveys completed by the participants and their parents at the time of enrollment and at a two-year follow-up visit at 11 to 12 years old. The researchers also controlled for socioeconomic status, gender, puberty status and other factors that could impact how much a child sleeps and affect brain and cognition.
“Additional studies are needed to confirm our finding and to see whether any interventions can improve sleep habits and reverse the neurological deficits,” Dr. Wang added.
The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the U.S. According to UMDSOM, up until now, no studies have examined the long-lasting impact of insufficient sleep on the neurocognitive development of pre-teens.