We probably don't need medical or health organizations to tell us that children need a certain number of hours a night for optimal health. But what exactly happens when they don't have the right amount and quality of sleep?
1. Irregular bedtime hours can disrupt healthy mental development. According to a study from the University College London, children ages 3, 5 and 7 with no set bedtime and went to sleep at different times at night were found to have lower performance scores in tests like basic number skills and reading out word cards.
“If a child is having irregular bedtimes at a young age, they're not synthesizing all the information around them at that age, and they've got a harder job to do when they are older. It sets them off on a more difficult path,” Amanda Sacker, a professor at the university told The Guardian. The study looked at data from 11,000 children in the U.K. and was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
2. Poor sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms. “For children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, poor sleep (too little sleep or symptoms of sleep disorders) may profoundly impact ADHD symptoms,” said the U.S. National Sleep Foundation (NSF). “Children may also be moody, emotionally explosive, and/or aggressive as a result of sleepiness.”
The NSF also cited a study involving more than 2,000 children ages 6 to 17 that found that children with sleep problems are more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive.
3. Lack of sleep could lead to attention problems. Published in the journal American Pediatrics, recent research found that a lack of sleep in kids can lead to behavior and cognitive problems in later years. At 7 years old, kids who got insufficient sleep as toddlers, scored lower in evaluations on their attention and reasoning skills.
“Insufficient sleep was defined as less than 12 hours during infancy, less than 11 hours for 3- and 4-year-olds and less than 10 hours for 5- to 7-year-old kids,” reported Reuters. Lead author Dr. Elsi Taveras, the chief general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and a professor at Harvard, followed 1,046 children from birth until they were around 13 years old.
4. Inadequate sleep increases the risk for emotional disorders later. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, a long-term study showed that children who experience inadequate sleep are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders later in life, reported ScienceDaily. What's more, after just two nights of poor sleep, researchers found that children derived less pleasure in things they loved and found it harder to recall details in positive memories and experiences.
“Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity,” said co-author Candice Alfano, a clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor at the University of Houston. “If your child has problems waking up in the morning or is sleepy during the day, then their nighttime sleep is probably inadequate.”
5. Late bedtime ups the chances for obesity. According to research published in the Journal of Pediatrics, toddlers who were asleep by 8 p.m. were less likely to be obese in their teen years. “Earlier bedtimes were protective against obesity,” Sarah Anderson, lead author and associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University.
“For parents, this reinforces the importance of establishing a bedtime routine,” says Anderson. “It’s something concrete that families can do to lower their child’s risk and it’s also likely to have positive benefits on behavior and on social, emotional and cognitive development.” The study involved gathering data from close to 1,000 kids when they were around 4 and a half years old and then again when they were around 15 years old.
6. Sleep deprivation can make it harder for students to learn. Lower school achievement can be linked to sleep deprivation in school kids, said researchers from the Boston College who carried out international education tests.
“I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show,” researcher Chad Minnichtold the BBC. The research found the U.S. to have the most sleep-deprived students. Japan, one of the countries with the world's top performing students, was on the list for countries with the best records for getting enough sleep.
7. Short sleep duration can lead teens to place themselves in dangerous situations. Sleep deprivation in teens can pose serious risks and lead to unintentional injuries, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that students who lack two hours of sleep a night, which accumulates to 10 hours by the end of the school week, are more likely to report engaging in risky behavior like drunk driving.
“It was rather surprising to find such an impact of short sleep duration on these injury-related behaviors and suggests that sleep deprivation may play an important role in poor judgment and decision-making among adolescents,” co-author Janet Croft told CNN. Date from more than 50,000 students were analyzed for the study.
Click here to read the sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.