Small increases in the amount of time that a child sleeps can improve behavior by a significant amount, while decreases will most likely make them act out.
The scientists published their findings in the journal Pediatrics. This new study is the first controlled investigation of the effect of sleep extension and reduction on the behavior of healthy children at school.
The researchers studied 34 children, aged 7 to 11, and split them into two groups, extending the sleep of one group and diminishing it in the other group by the same amount. They measured the amount of sleep each child got during a period and then used a wristwatch to track how much a child moved during the night. Questionnaires were given to the child’s teachers about their moods and behaviors. The teachers didn’t know which group each child belonged to.
The extension group slept 27 minutes longer than normal while the reduction group slept 54 minutes less. Both groups showed significant changes in behavior. Children who slept more acted out less and were less moody. Parents reported they were less sleepy. Children who slept less got worse scores from teachers and parents indicated that they looked much sleepier during the day.
The results aren’t surprising, but what is surprising is the small differences in total sleep time and the relatively short period of the study. The researchers changed the kids’ sleep cycle for only a week.
Lack of sleep is associated with difficulty in the modulation of impulse and emotion. The scientists also state that sleep must be prioritized and sleep problems should be eliminated to give children the best chance to succeed at school.
Reference: “Impact of Sleep Extension and Restriction on Children’s Emotional Lability and Impulsivity” by Reut Gruber, PhD; Jamie Cassoff, BSc; Sonia Frenette, PhD;
Sabrina Wiebe, MSc and Julie Carrier, PhD, 1 November 2012, Pediatrics.