Children’s Sleep Patterns May Affect Behavior for Years to Come

A group of researchers led by a Harvard pediatrician studied the connection between amount of sleep in children aged 6 months to 7 years, and the child’s neurobehavioral functioning at age 7.

Over 1,000 children were evaluated.  Mothers were interviewed when the children were approximately 6 months, 3 years, and 7 years old.  The mothers also completed questionnaires as the children reached ages 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 years old.  Finally, both mothers and teachers were surveyed when the children were 7 years old.  While they were surveyed separately, results from both mothers and teachers were similar, though the teachers noted even greater problems at age 7.

While they did not find a significant correlation between sleep in infancy (6 months – 2 years), they did find that sleep patterns of those children in the 3 years and older group made an impact on nerve and brain function.

“Children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7,” says Elsie Taveras, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, who led the study. “The associations between insufficient sleep and poorer functioning persisted even after adjusting for several factors that could influence the relationship.”

So how much sleep is enough?  For this study, researchers used these benchmarks:

Child’s Age                              Recommended Sleep
6 months – 2 years                  12 hours or longer

3 years – 4 years                     11 hours or longer

5 years – 7 years                     10 hours or longer

The full impact of this association between lack of sleep and later behavior issues is not yet known.  While previous research has linked poor sleep with various chronic health conditions, HOW one led to the other has not been determined.

Researchers have a theory.  Taveras states that by affecting behavior, poor sleep may affect “inhibition, impulsivity, and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods”.  Long term research is already underway to evaluate continued effects of poor sleep on health and development.

In the meantime, it is important for people of all ages, but especially children, to get a good night’s sleep regularly.  If your child is having trouble sleeping, be sure to inform your pediatrician so they may address any potential medical issues.  To ensure both the youngest (and oldest) members of your family sleep well, your doctor of chiropractic can evaluate any postural issues that may be affecting sleep, provide chiropractic care to address those issues, as well as offer guidance on mattress and pillow selection.