Study links sound sleep to cognitive function in children and preteens

A young boy sleeps

Getting enough, high-quality sleep is important at every age, but especially for growing children and teens. A study with 5,566 children, ages 8-11, found that children who didn’t sleep as long or as well as peers were more likely to show variations in measurements of how the brain processes, stores, and organizes information. The study published in Cerebral Cortex Communications and was partially supported by the NHLBI.

As researchers partnered with parents of children participating in this study, they asked them to rate their child’s sleep habits over a six-month period. A 26-question survey captured information about how long it took, on average, for each child to fall asleep each night, how long they slept throughout the night, and if they experienced sleep disturbances, such as nighttime awakenings. Parents shared additional information about their child’s snoring, screen time use, and how awake they felt the next day. Researchers analyzed this feedback and controlled for factors, like body weight, asthma, and biological sex. They analyzed functional MRIs (brain scans) of children in the study. They found children who slept less or experienced sleep disruptions were more likely to show differences in activated regions of the brain involved with immediate cognition and interconnected activities. Examples range from storing information to responsiveness.

Differences within subgroups also emerged. For example, girls slept less than boys and were more likely to have difficulty falling asleep and feeling awake the next day. Children who engaged in more screen time were more likely to sleep less and experience sleep disturbances. Non-white study participants were also more likely to sleep less, expanding on prior sleep health disparity research. The authors note this study further supports the important role sleep plays in supporting the neurodevelopment and cognitive processes of children and teens.

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