A recent study illuminates the importance of adequate sleep quality and duration in preschool children’s daily life functions. Dennis Thompson reviewed the study which involved more than a thousand children:
Preschoolers who get too little sleep may be more likely to have trouble paying attention, controlling their emotions and processing information later in childhood, a new study suggests.
By age 7, these sleepless kids had markedly decreased mental and emotional functioning, said study lead researcher Dr. Elsie Taveras.
The children exhibited “poorer ability to pay attention, poorer emotional control, poorer executive function in general, and more behavioral problems,” said Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.
“If you think about it, these are the basic functions of a child’s life. It really has implications on their ability to perform at school and home, and in relationships with their peers,” Taveras added.
For children and adults, adequate sleep is important for optimal brain function:
A lack of sleep can affect the brain’s plasticity — the ability to change in response to environmental influences and experiences, said Dr. Judith Anne Owens, director of sleep medicine for Rhode Island Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.
It’s thought that sleep also gives the brain a chance to rid itself of toxins that accumulate throughout the day.
Sleep deprivation has been shown to affect parts of the brain related to reasoning and emotional control, Owens added. These include the prefrontal cortex (which governs executive functions), the amygdala (which regulates emotion), and the striatum (which regulates impulse control).
How do you know your child is getting enough sleep?
If their child wakes spontaneously in the morning in a good mood, ready to start the day, and isn’t dozing off during the day or having behavior that’s suggestive of insufficient sleep, “then I think that’s reassuring for parents,” Owens said. “Maybe they’re on the lower end of the spectrum but that’s OK. They’re functioning just fine.”