Lack Of Sleep In Preschool Could Mean Future Behavior Problems

Lack Of Sleep In Preschool Could Mean Future Behavior Problems

Preschoolers who get too little sleep may be more likely to have trouble paying attention, controlling their emotions and processing information later in childhood, a new study suggests.

By age 7, these sleepless kids had markedly decreased mental and emotional functioning, said study lead researcher Dr. Elsie Taveras.

The children exhibited “poorer ability to pay attention, poorer emotional control, poorer executive function in general, and more behavioral problems,” said Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.

“If you think about it, these are the basic functions of a child’s life. It really has implications on their ability to perform at school and home, and in relationships with their peers,” Taveras added.

The researchers drew these conclusions from data gathered as part of Project Viva, a long-term investigation involving a group of children recruited for the study before birth. Most are now about 13, Taveras said.

As part of the study, mothers of 1,046 Project Viva kids filled out regular questionnaires, including how much sleep their children routinely got.

Sleep recommendations vary by age. In general, kids 3 to 4 years old need 11 hours of sleep each day, Taveras said. Younger kids need more, and older kids a little less.

When the kids reached age 7, both the mothers and the children’s teachers filled out an additional questionnaire aimed at assessing each child’s “executive function.” Executive function includes attention and reasoning — the brain’s ability to process incoming information and respond appropriately, Taveras said.

The mothers’ and teachers’ reports revealed similar associations between poor functioning and not receiving sufficient sleep from age 3 onward, the researchers found.

Previous studies have shown that sleep is important for good brain function, and might be even more critical in the developing brains of children, Taveras said.

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