A recent study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggests late nights and lax bedtime routines can impair young children’s cognitive thinking.
Led by Professor Amanda Sacker from University College London, the study examined sleep patterns and brain power on more than 11,000 7 year olds. Data was gathered on children at the ages of 3, 5 and then 7 to discover their learning progress and whether it related to their sleeping habits.
Overall, the study’s findings revealed those children with no regular bedtimes or who went to bed later than 9 p.m. had lower test scores for reading, math and spatial awareness. However, the impact was more obvious throughout early childhood in girls than in boys.
“[Children] can get cognitive impairment because they are not as alert and they have lapses or deficits in their attention span because they don’t have sufficient sleep,” said Dr. Therese Linnon, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Pediatrics office in Boardman. “Certainly, there have been multiple studies that show lack of sleep or chronic episodes of poor sleep, in particular, can lead to behavior concerns, attention-span problems and decreased cognition like this study has shown.”
In general, elementary and middle school children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night, Dr. Linnon advises, but as children head toward adolescence that number can decrease to more like 8 to 10 hours a night.
For parents who don’t enforce consistent bedtime routines, the good news is it’s never too late to get started.
For younger children, Dr. Linnon suggests bathing the child, then brushing his teeth and reading a story before bedtime as a consistent routine that signals it’s time to go to sleep.
Also, be sure to keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Don’t allow TV or other noisy distractions. Children can sleep with night-lights, but Dr. Linnon warns too much light can stimulate the child, making it more difficult for her to fall asleep.
“There have been multiple studies that show children who have a bedtime routine, regardless of what that routine is, are going to have better sleeping time,” said Dr. Linnon. “Every routine is different and you just have to pick one that works for your child and your family.”