A new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics sounds an alarm for parents of school-age children, finding evidence that inadequate sleep affects a child’s positive development. Previous research has associated sleep deficits in children with increased substance use, higher rates of depression, compromised alertness, and impaired decision-making.
This study from researchers at Brown University is one of a few studies to examine the effect of sleep duration on child development and to show an association between lack of sleep and decreased flourishing.
What is flourishing? The term is often used as a synonym for thriving and well-being. Flourishing relates to a combination of physical and emotional health, cognitive development, and healthy relationships. It is often studied by researchers in the field of Positive Psychology.
About the Study
Using data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), the study examined data from 71,811 children ages 6-17. Sleep data from participants were compared to recommendations from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Guidelines from these organizations consider inadequate sleep to be fewer than nine hours for children ages 6-12 and eight hours for ages 13-17.
Researchers looked at parental questionnaire responses for five markers of flourishing in children:
1. Shows interest and curiosity in learning new things.
2. Works to finish tasks he or she starts.
3. Stays calm and in control when faced with a challenge.
4. Cares about doing well in school.
5. Does all required homework.
One-third of children ages 6-17 were found to have inadequate sleep. Children aged 6-12 who had sleep deficits were more likely to receive relatively low ratings on interest in learning, care about doing well in school, doing all homework, and working to finish tasks. Children aged 13-17 with insufficient sleep were more likely to show low ratings on interest in learning, doing all homework, finishing tasks, and staying calm and in control in the face of a challenge.
Several other results are worth noting. Inadequate sleep was also associated with increased use of digital media. For example, children in both age groups who did not get recommended levels of sleep were more than twice as likely to spend four hours or more with digital devices other than a television. Children with insufficient sleep also had higher levels of mental health conditions, especially during adolescence.
This study showed important associations between inadequate sleep and decreased flourishing in school-age children. Combined with studies that have shown a relationship between sleep deficits and mental health issues in children, this research should remind families to take sleep guidelines seriously and be aware of signs that children may not be getting the sleep they need.
Tsao, H. S., Gjelsvik, A., Sojar, S., & Amanullah, S. (2021). Sounding the Alarm on Sleep: A Negative Association Between Inadequate Sleep and Flourishing. The Journal of Pediatrics, 228, 199-207.e193, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.08.080