The 6 Most Important Child Development Research Studies of 2011

Study: Children's Sleep Habits Interfere With Cognitive Development

Study name: "Children's sleep and cognitive performance: A cross-domain analysis of change over time," Bub et al., 2011, Developmental Psychology, Volume 47 (6), p. 1504-1514.

What was found? By recording children's sleep problems and cognitive problems in 250 second- and third-grade students over a three-year period, this study showed that kids who reported problems with sleepiness during the day, with increased sleepiness over time, did not show growth in their cognitive development. Over time, this resulted in learning losses that were significant compared to the normative gains among kids without signs of sleep deprivation.

Why is this study influential? On average, kids don't sleep as much as they used to (or should), but this study shows that young kids who report being tired during the day (and who show signs of sleep deprivation) will most likely have long-term impairments during critical learning stages in childhood (that is, from second grade through fourth grade). These effects are especially strong among girls, possibly due to pubertal changes in the oldest girls that make them more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation. Most troubling is the discovery that lack of cognitive growth is cumulative; each year of sleepiness adversely interferes with the development of cognitive abilities.

What's the take-home message? There are many serious and negative consequences of childhood sleep deprivation. This study is sobering because it shows convincingly that lack of adequate sleep can undermine a child's ability to learn. All parents need to be vigilant about monitoring their kids' sleep, developing awareness for signs of sleep deprivation, and being ready to take action to improve their kids' sleep habits.

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