Sleep and Your Child’s Mental Health

Kids in America, and probably around the world, just don’t get enough sleep. We know from previous studies that at least half of American kids don’t get an adequate amount of sleep. (1) We also know that inadequate sleep is linked with problems with obesity later in life. (2)

Add to that the innate wisdom of virtually every parent that says kids who don’t get enough sleep simply won’t be healthy or happy and you quickly get the idea that sleep really matters for kids.

Now a new study from a research group at the University of Warwick says that inadequate sleep for may lead to anxiety, depression, poor cognitive performance and impulsive behavior. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry

We know that sleep states are critical times for all humans. In addition to allowing energy stores to be replenished, tissue to be repaired and healing of other body systems, brain circuitry is reorganized and brain chemistry is reset. Since children’s brains are developing and reorganizing at breakneck speed, sleep is crucial during childhood.

The Warwick team, working with scientists from Fudan University, examined the connection between sleep duration and brain structure in 11,000 children aged 9 to 11 year. The data was drawn from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development dataset.

The team found that reduced sleep duration was linked to higher measures of depression, anxiety and impulsive behavior, along with reduced cognitive performance. Depressive issues persisted for a year, even if the sleep duration problem was corrected.

Lower brain volume of brain areas involved the orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal and temporal cortex, precuneus, and supramarginal gyrus was found to be associated with the shorter sleep duration by using big data analysis approach. Without adequate sleep, the brain doesn’t have the ability to “reset” its chemical balance of neurotransmitters, enhance needed synaptic connections and rewire its circuitry properly. This problem is connected to the lower volume indicated, according to the research team.


Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science comments:

“The recommended amount of sleep for children 6 to 12 years of age is 9-12 hours. However, sleep disturbances are common among children and adolescents around the world due to the increasing demand on their time from school, increased screen time use, and sports and social activities.

“Our findings showed that the behaviour problems total score for children with less than 7 hours sleep was 53% higher on average and the cognitive total score was 7.8% lower on average than for children with 9-11 hours of sleep. It highlights the importance of enough sleep in both cognition and mental health in children.” (3)

Professor Edmund Rolls from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science also commented:

“These are important associations that have been identified between sleep duration in children, brain structure, and cognitive and mental health measures, but further research is needed to discover the underlying reasons for these relationships.”

Getting the recommended minimum of 9 hours may go a long way toward ensuring that your child not only grows normally, but that their brain develops normally and they avoid depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior problems and poor cognitive performance. In other words, getting enough sleep will ensure their brain is happy and healthy, too.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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