Inadequate sleep risks children’s mental health

Warwick: The hours of sleep children manage to get significantly determines their vulnerability towards depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour, and poor cognitive performance.

Sleep states are active processes that support reorganisation of brain circuitry. This makes sleep especially important for children, whose brains are developing and reorganizing rapidly. In a study by researchers from the University of Warwick, cases of 11,000 children aged between 9 and 11 years were analysed to find out the relationship between sleep duration and brain structure.

The study was carried out by researchers Professor Jianfeng Feng, Professor Edmund Rolls, Dr. Wei Cheng and colleagues from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science and Fudan University.

Measures of depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour and poor cognitive performance in the children were associated with shorter sleep duration. Moreover, the depressive problems were associated with short sleep duration one year later.

The reduced brain volume of areas such as orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal, and temporal cortex, precuneus, and supramarginal gyrus was found to be associated with the shorter sleep duration. Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science, comments: “The recommended amount of sleep for children 6 to 12 years of age is 9-12 hours. However, sleep disturbances are common among children and adolescents around the world due to the increasing demand on their time from school, increased screen time use, and sports and social activities.” Professor Jianfeng Feng further added: “Our findings showed that the total score for behavior problems in children with less than 7 hours sleep was 53% higher on average and the cognitive total score was 7.8% lower on average than for children with 9-11 hours of sleep. It highlights the importance of enough sleep in both cognition and mental health in children.”

Professor Edmund Rolls from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science also commented, “These are important associations that have been identified between sleep duration in children, brain structure, and cognitive and mental health measures, but further research is needed to discover the underlying reasons for these relationships.”

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