Insufficient sleep can harm children’s health, according to a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 

Large amounts of research have connected inadequate sleep with poor emotional health; however, studies in children are rare. Additionally, how a lack of sleep manifests itself differs from child to child, according to the study authors. 

Research conducted by the University of Houston examined how a lack of sleep effected 53 children between 7 and 11 years of age. The study was conducted over a period of a week and was comprised of 2 in-lab assessments. 

The first assessment was conducted after a healthy night of sleep while the second was conducted after 2 nights of restricted sleep. During the assessments, participants were shown images and movie clips that elicit both positive and negative emotions. Data were collected using recordings, objective facial expressions, and respiratory sinus arrhythmias. 

Researchers found that the most significant alterations occurred when participants were shown positive rather than negative emotional stimuli. Additionally, children with greater pre-existing anxiety symptoms showed the most dramatic alterations in emotional responding after sleep restriction.

"The experience and expression of positive emotions are essential for children's friendships, healthy social interactions and effective coping. Our findings might explain why children who sleep less on average have more peer-related problems," University of Houston professor of Psychology and Director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, Candice Alfano, PhD, said in the press release. 

Poor sleep was found to spill over into children’s everyday social and emotional lives. According to Alfano, the study shows the need to assess and prioritize healthy sleep habits in emotionally vulnerable children. 

Reference

Insufficient sleep harms children's mental health (Press Release) Houston, TX. July 7, 2020, EurekAlert! Accessed July 8, 2020.