Mental health: Children who sleep under 9 hours a day are prone to behavioural problems, anxiety, depression

Kids who don't sleep enough have slower cognitive development, are more prone to anxiety, depression and behavioural issues.

Myupchar February 05, 2020 15:50:44 IST
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Mental health: Children who sleep under 9 hours a day are prone to behavioural problems, anxiety, depression

Did you grow up marvelling at the one boy or girl in middle school who could get by on four to six hours of sleep daily? You’re not alone.

Between school, private tuitions, extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends and catching up on the latest season of Big Bang Theory, there were a whole lot of demands on our lives and time as pre-adolescents. These kids really seemed to be able to do it all. The operative word here is “seemed”.

Science has now shown that these children may have had slower cognitive development, in addition to being more prone to anxiety, depression and behavioural problems — including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD — than other kids aged 9 to 11.

Child’s age/Sleep required per day

Up to 1 year/12-16 hours

1-2 years/11-14 hours

3-5 years/10-13 hours

6-12 years/9-12 hours

13-18 years/8-10 hours

Source: Johns Hopkins All Children Hospital 

Also read: How do we form memories? What does it mean to sharpen our memory and why do memories change with time

Mental health Children who sleep under 9 hours a day are prone to behavioural problems anxiety depression

The science of sleep

A recent study, conducted at the University of Warwick, UK, with 11,067 children who were already part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, found that “dimensional psychopathology” - behavioural problems, anxiety and depression - is inversely proportional to sleep duration in children of school-going age. Increase the duration of sleep, and the likelihood of behavioural issues in children diminishes. Conversely, inadequate sleep increases the likelihood of the child developing behavioural problems and/or depression in just one year!

The researchers used structural MRIs to show that kids who got adequate sleep had higher volume of development in the prefrontal cortex, temporal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, precuneus and supramarginal gyrus sections of the brain that are responsible for functions like forming memories, recollection, collating information, concentrating on tasks, language skills and empathy among other things. The researchers published their findings on 3 February in Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal published by Nature.

What’s more, the parents of children who got enough sleep are also likely to have better mental health outcomes according to the study.

What does this mean for us today?

Unfortunately, the demands on children’s time - not to mention distractions - have only increased over the last few years. Research has shown that children between nine years and 11 years of age need 9-12 hours of sleep daily because their brain is developing at a faster rate at this age. Adults, by comparison, need only seven to eight hours of sleep daily.

If you have a child or a nephew/niece between nine years and 11 years of age, here’s what you can do to help them get their 9-12 hours of shuteye daily:

  • First, keep in mind that children need more sleep than you when you are planning activities for them or hosting parties at your home.
  • Many children develop sleep problems around this age - part of the reason is screen time before going to bed. Limit screen time to at least one hour before bedtime.
  • If your child is already drinking coffee (even cold coffee), limit this to the first half of the day.
  • Make sure the child’s room is dark and cool.
  • Try to lay down a regular time to go to bed for your child. It is a good idea to consider a regular time for you to go to bed as well - a lights-out for the entire household on most days will help ensure that both you and your growing pre-teen get the benefits of good sleep.

Also read: Why we all need our beauty sleep to get through the day: Study

For more information, read our article on Sleep Deprivation: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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