The following is excerpted from an online article posted by EurekAlert!
Elementary school-age children who get less than nine hours of sleep per night have significant differences in certain brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to those who get the recommended nine to 12 hours of sleep per night, according to a new study led by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers. Such differences correlated with greater mental health problems, like depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors, in those who lacked sleep. Inadequate sleep was also linked to cognitive difficulties with memory, problem-solving, and decision-making.
The findings were published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
To conduct the study, the researchers examined data that were collected from more than 8,300 children aged 9 to 10 years. They examined MRI images, medical records, and surveys completed by the participants and their parents at the time of enrollment and at a two-year follow-up visit at 11 to 12 years of age.
“We found that children who had insufficient sleep, less than nine hours per night, at the beginning of the study, had less grey matter or smaller volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and inhibition control compared to those with healthy sleep habits,” said study corresponding author Ze Wang, Ph.D., Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at UMSOM. “These differences persisted after two years, a concerning finding that suggests long-term harm for those who do not get enough sleep.”
This is one of the first findings to demonstrate the potential long-term impact of lack of sleep on neurocognitive development in children. It also provides substantial support for the current sleep recommendations in children, according to Dr. Wang and his colleagues.