Sleeping less than 9 hours could affect kids’ memory and mental health

·2 min read

Story at a glance

  • University of Maryland researchers examined MRI images and medical records of more than 8,300 children aged 9 to 10.

  • The team linked lack of sleep to mental health issues like depression and anxiety and to memory issues, including problem solving and decision making.

  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends between 9 and 12 hours of sleep nightly for children ages 6 to 12.

Elementary school-age kids who sleep less than the recommended number of hours per night exhibit differences in brain regions associated with memory, intelligence and well-being, according to a recent study.

For the study published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, researchers from the University of Maryland examined MRI images and medical records of more than 8,300 children aged 9 to 10, as well as surveys completed by the participants and their parents.

The team linked lack of sleep to mental health issues like depression and anxiety and to memory issues, including problem solving and decision making.

Researchers accounted for socioeconomic status, gender, puberty status, and other factors that could affect a child’s sleep habits and brain function.

Follow up evaluations showed that the sleep habits of the group who did not meet the recommended 9 to 12 hours per night did not change significantly over two years.  

“We found that children who had insufficient sleep, less than nine hours per night, at the beginning of the study had less grey matter or smaller volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and inhibition control, compared to those with healthy sleep habits,” the study’s corresponding author Ze Wang, said in a news release.

“These differences persisted after two years, a concerning finding that suggests long-term harm for those who do not get enough sleep,” he continued.

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The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends between 9 and 12 hours of sleep nightly for children ages 6 to 12.

Parents can help their children reach this sleep goal by limiting technology use close to bedtime and establishing a consistent sleep schedule.

“This is a crucial study finding that points to the importance of doing long-term studies on the developing child’s brain,” said E. Albert Reece, Dean of University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Sleep can often be overlooked during busy childhood days filled with homework and extracurricular activities. Now we see how detrimental that can be to a child’s development.”

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