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Understanding benefits of sleep -- and risks of not enough sleep

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

A sleep research update

A rising area of scientific research is in sleep: What it’s all about, how it works, why we sleep -- and what happens when we don’t get enough. What was once (and sometimes still is) often dismissed as a nuisance part of the day is more and more understood to be key to health and happiness at all ages. Sleep isn’t lost time -- it’s critical for our ability to make decisions, learn and just plain function. It’s more than rest -- it’s restoration. Sleep is so important that the Centers for Disease Control have established a special section on their website to address sleep as a public health issue.

tired teen


A subset of this rising sleep research is looking at sleep issues related to kids. Logistically, it can be hard to perform specific kinds of sleep research on children -- not many parents would send their eight-year-olds to a sleep lab for a week without being able to see them. However, innovative researchers are looking for and finding ways to apply their research to specific issues in this population. The following summarizes several recently released sleep-related studies about kids.

Sleep and kids with ADHD

A recent Canadian study on kids with ADHD showed that loss of sufficient sleep -- just one hour a night for one week -- can have a significant and measurable negative impact on attentiveness and neurobehavioral functioning. With children that are already facing challenges in this area, sufficient sleep appears to be key to effectively and positively managing the diagnosis.

Kids and caffeine

It seems like it's so obvious it doesn't need a study, but a recent study out of Nebraska validates what we think we knew and something we didn't: Caffeine keeps us awake -- even kids -- and parents often aren't aware of how much caffeine their kids are consuming. A soda may seem harmless, but the more caffeine a child consumes, the less sleep the child gets. In the study, eight to 12-years-olds were consuming an average of 109 mg of caffeine a day -- the equivalent of about three sodas. If you want to promote sleep at home, you might want to start with limiting your child's caffeine intake.

Sleep and Memory

While not a study specifically about kids, a recent study showed the link between memory and sleep. When we are asleep, our brains are still working, consolidating memories -- and this consolidation activity may impact creativity as well. For adults as well as kids, this may mean you can reinforce the positive elements of your family life just by making sure you get enough sleep.

Nighttime sleep and small children

A study of young Canadian children revealed that children who achieved more of their sleep during nighttime hours and infants and young toddlers performed better on executive functioning testing, and showed better impulse control. The findings show that nighttime sleep boosts cognitive function. If you are struggling with establishing that regular nighttime sleep routine with your infant, your efforts are not in vain! Keep trying for the benefit of your child.

Teens need sleep to manage mental distress

Already under the influence of hormones, peers, and their rapidly changing, uncertain lives, it may be easy to put some teen's mental distress off to "that age." But a recent study showed that an increase in depressive and anxious symptoms in teens can be linked to lack of sleep. Teens who achieved less than eight hours of sleep per night were more likely to show signs of psychological distress than other teens. While the source of the stress may not be lack of sleep, addressing your teen's sleep may help them manage their stress and anxiety.

More on kids and sleep

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