Study shows that children who sleep the least have the greatest risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Study shows that children who sleep the least have the greatest risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Children who slept less had fewer positive emotions

Over time, insufficient sleep can affect our concentration and our relationships with friends.

The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. One child may be fine with eight hours’ sleep, while another may need 13 hours. What may be insufficient sleep for Peter may be enough for Paula.

Bad mood?

In other words, you need not worry about whether you are getting less sleep than your friends. But if you find that you are struggling to concentrate, or if you experience severe mood swings during the day, it may be a good idea to ask for help. A doctor or nurse can advise you on how to improve your sleep.

In fact, researchers have discovered that children who sleep less than others, on average, have a slightly increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

Large ten-year study of children

This is one of the results to come out of one study. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) tracked more than 800 children over a ten-year period. They started studying them from the age of four. They wanted to know how the children’s sleep developed as they got older.

The researchers didn’t know much about this topic before, but they know a lot more today. For example, they have discovered that very few children get insufficient sleep – which would be less than seven hours – at the age of six.

As the children grew older, more of them slept too little.

Measuring sleep with a sensor

The researchers then looked at how children who slept for a shorter duration when they were younger fared. Did they still sleep less when they got older?

The children slept with a sensor that measured their movements every night for a week. This allowed the researchers to measure the duration of their sleep. These tests were repeated every two years until the children turned 14. The researchers found that problems getting enough sleep went away for the vast majority of children. But some children continued having trouble sleeping as they got older.

Fewer positive emotions

To find out about the children’s emotions, the researchers interviewed them. They discovered that those who slept less had fewer positive emotions. A small number of children who slept for an insufficient duration over time also showed signs of anxiety and depression.

Boys who slept less than others were at higher risk of developing behavioural disorders such as ADHD.

More difficulty engaging with friends

Getting insufficient sleep over time can drain our energy. This can make it harder to socialise with friends, according to the researchers. It can also make it harder to concentrate at school.

All these factors add up to potential psychiatric disorders later in life.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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