Insufficient sleep could have a lasting impact on the neurocognitive development of preadolescents

Primary school-age children who sleep less than nine hours per night have significant differences in certain brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence and well-being compared to those who sleep between the nine and 12 hours recommended by night, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). These differences correlate with greater mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviors, in those who were sleep deprived. Inadequate sleep was also linked to cognitive difficulties with memory, problem solving and decision making. The findings were published today in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages 6 to 12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. To date, no studies have examined the lasting impact of insufficient sleep on the neurocognitive development of preadolescents.

To conduct the study, researchers examined data collected from more than 8,300 children ages 9 to 10 enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. They examined MRI images, medical records, and surveys completed by the participants and their parents at enrollment and at a two-year follow-up visit between ages 11 and 12. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US.

We found that children who had insufficient sleep, less than nine hours per night, at the start of the study had less gray matter or less volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for controlling attention, memory and inhibition compared to those who had healthy sleep habits. . These differences persisted after two years, a worrying finding that suggests long-term harm to those who don’t get enough sleep.”

Ze Wang, PhD, corresponding author of the study, professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine at UMSOM

This is one of the first findings to demonstrate the potential long-term impact of sleep deprivation on children’s neurocognitive development. It also provides substantial support for current sleep recommendations in children, according to Dr. Wang and colleagues.

In follow-up assessments, the research team found that participants in the adequate sleep group tended to sleep gradually less over two years, which is normal as children move into adolescence, while the patterns of sleep of participants in the insufficient sleep group did not change. a lot. The researchers controlled for socioeconomic status, gender, puberty status and other factors that could affect the amount of sleep a child gets and affect the brain and cognition.

“We tried to match the two groups as closely as possible to help us more fully understand the long-term impact of too little sleep on the preadolescent brain,” said Dr. Wang. “Further studies are needed to confirm our finding and to see if any intervention can improve sleep habits and reverse neurological deficits.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to promote good sleep habits in their children. Her advice includes making getting enough sleep a family priority, following a regular sleep routine, encouraging physical activity during the day, limiting screen time, and eliminating screens completely an hour before bed.

The study was funded by NIH. Fan Nils Yang, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Wang is a co-author of the study. Weizhen Xie, PhD, a researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is also a co-author of the study. UMSOM faculty members Thomas Ernst, PhD, and Linda Chang, MD, MS, are co-principal investigators of the ABCD study at the Baltimore site, but were not involved in the data analysis of this new study .

“This is a crucial study finding that points to the importance of doing long-term studies of the developing child’s brain,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, executive vice president for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Sleep can often be overlooked during busy childhood days filled with homework and extracurricular activities. Now we see how this can be detrimental to a child’s development.”


University of Maryland School of Medicine

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