Sleep states are active processes that support reorganisation of brain circuitry. This makes sleep especially important for children, whose brains are developing and reorganizing rapidly.
In the paper ‘Sleep duration, brain structure, and psychiatric and cognitive problems in children,’ published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, 11,000 children aged 9-11 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development dataset had the relationship between sleep duration and brain structure examined by researchers Professor Jianfeng Feng, Professor Edmund Rolls, Dr. Wei Cheng and colleagues from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science and Fudan University.
Measures of depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour and poor cognitive performance in the children were associated with shorter sleep duration. Moreover, the depressive problems were associated with short sleep duration one year later.
Lower brain volume of brain areas involved the orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal and temporal cortex, precuneus, and supramarginal gyrus was found to be associated with the shorter sleep duration by using big data analysis approach.
Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science comments:
“The recommended amount of sleep for children 6 to 12 years of age is 9-12 hours. However, sleep disturbances are common among children and adolescents around the world due to the increasing demand on their time from school, increased screen time use, and sports and social activities.
A previous study showed that about 60% of adolescents in the United States receive less than eight hours of sleep on school nights.
“Our findings showed that the behaviour problems total score for children with less than 7 hours sleep was 53% higher on average and the cognitive total score was 7.8% lower on average than for children with 9-11 hours of sleep. It highlights the importance of enough sleep in both cognition and mental health in children.”
Professor Edmund Rolls from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science also commented:
“These are important associations that have been identified between sleep duration in children, brain structure, and cognitive and mental health measures, but further research is needed to discover the underlying reasons for these relationships.”