Even if school’s out and there’s almost no reason to wake up early, kids should still be sticking to their bedtime routine. It’s not only so that they grow up healthy, but a lack of sleep in children can lead to behavioral and cognitive problems in later years, a recent search found.
Kids who lack sleep can have trouble problem-solving, paying attention, and controlling their emotions. They may have more behavioral problems compared to kids who do get enough sleep at night, lead author Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, told Reuters.
Published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, the study involved analyzing data from 1,046 children collected from a long-term investigative research that followed the kids since birth. Most of the kids are now around 13 years old, Dr. Taveras told CBS News.
As part of the research, parents were asked about their kids sleeping habits at age 6 months, 3 years, and 7 years. They were also asked to fill out annual health questionnaires regarding their children.
“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. The most recent sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine are close to the ones used in the study. (See the full sleep guidelines that cover infants to teenagers here.)
By the time the kids were 7 years old, parents and teachers were then asked to evaluate the children’s behavior and “executive function,” which is the “brain’s ability to process incoming information and respond appropriately,” said Dr. Taveras. “It includes attention and reasoning.”
Results showed that children who lacked sleep at 3 to 4 years old had lower evaluation scores compared to those who did get enough sleep. The same was found to be true for sleep-deprived 5- to 7-year olds.
An extensive study, published in 2015, also had similar findings. Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the population-based study that followed more than 32,000 children with Norwegian mothers found that short sleep duration and frequent night awakenings at 18 months old were linked to emotional and behavioral problems at 5 years old.
Michelle M. Garrison, a research assistant professor at the University of Washington in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry, agreed that a lack of sleep could have an adverse impact on behavior. “You end up with a 4-year-old who, because they’re sleep deprived, may have the self-control of a 2-year-old,” she said, as reported by The New York Times, “more likely to lash out, more likely to hit, more likely to melt down.”
But she also acknowledged that kids today struggle with falling asleep as their days are usually fast-paced and jam-packed. The key then is to set a bedtime routine, said sleep specialist Dr. Keith Aguilera, head of the Comprehensive Sleep Disorder at St. Luke’s Hospital.
A bedtime routine should start with the most energetic activity progressing to the most calming. A warm bath can come first, followed by a bedtime story, and a goodnight kiss can be last. She also stressed that for a routine to be effective there has to be more than one activity — and it needs to be consistent.
Problems with interrupted sleep? A bedtime routine can reduce late night awakenings, and tossing and turning as well. Children are easy to teach. You just have to fix their sleep time, and they can automatically sleep through the night. And the most important tip? You have to sleep early and wake up at the right time, too. Children will likely follow your sleep pattern. The change has to start with you.