Giving children an extra 27 extra minutes night time sleep on the nights before school days makes a significant difference in their behavior at school. They are more emotionally stable, less restless, and less impulsive, researchers from McGill University, Montreal, Canada, reported in the journal Pediatrics.

Parents, teachers, health authorities and doctors have been concerned about children’s sleep for decades. In another study, Australian researchers showed that children lost an average of .073 minutes per year of sleep from 1897 to 2009. Lack of sleep has become a serious public health issue today, both for children and adults.

Reut Gruber, PhD. and team worked with a group of healthy 7 to 11 year old kids. They found that if the children slept one hour less than they routinely would, the effects of their behavior were the opposite – on the next day at school they were emotionally more unstable, restless and impulsive.

The authors wrote:

“Healthy sleep is essential for supporting alertness and other key functional domains required for academic success. Sleep must be prioritized, and sleep problems must be eliminated.”

The researchers explained, as background information, that prior studies have tended to focus on academic performance when studying the impact of sleep on children, rather than what psychiatric effects there might be. Some studies have focused on children’s sleep and certain medical conditions or illnesses. An article published in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine showed that children who do not sleep well because of breathing iregularities tend to eventually have behavioral difficulties.

According to surveys and studies, 43% of boys aged from 10 to 11 years do not get the recommended amount of sleep each night. The majority of boys and girls of that age are rarely in bed by 9pm, the authors added.

Electronic equipment may hinder sleep – a problem today is getting the kids to sleep. They will go to bed, lie down, but cannot get to sleep. A study published in Applied Ergonomics revealed that the self-luminous “backlit” displays that exist in many screens can affect evening melatonin, resulting in delayed sleep, especially among teenagers.

A child sleeping
The “crucial” impact of sleep on daytime function needs to be taken seriously

Dr. Gruber explained that increasing the time children spend asleep moderately is not so difficult, and provides considerable benefits. Parents, pupils and teachers need to be educated about how crucial proper sleep is on daytime function.

The researchers placed 34 healthy children aged 7 to 11 into two groups:

  • The extra hour group – they slept an hour more than usual each night for five nights
  • The one hour less group – they slept for an hour less than usual each night for five nights

None of the children were allowed to take daytime naps. None of them had any type of sleep, academic or behavioral problems.

The researchers found that those in the extra hour group only really got about 27 minutes extra sleep (average) on top of their baseline 9.3 hours, while the one hour less group slept 54 fewer minutes each night.

The children who slept less were much more sleepy during the daytime compared to how they were before the study began, however, they had a drop in sleep fragmentation, meaning their quality of sleep was better. They had more behavioral problems at school than before the experiment began. Behavioral assessments were made by teachers blindly – i.e. the teachers had no idea there was an experiment going on.

A well-recognized score system was used to measure the children’s behavior, which was at 50 points at baseline. Among those with the extra 27 minutes’ sleep each night, their scores rose to 54, in contrast to 47 points among those who slept less.

The authors explained that this was a small study and should be considered as a preliminary one.

In an Abstract in the same journal, the authors concluded:

“A modest extension in sleep duration was associated with significant improvement in alertness and emotional regulation, whereas a modest sleep restriction had opposite effects.”

Studies on the benefits of adequate sleep and the harms of sleep deprivation have come up with many different findings; below are a few of them:

Written by Christian Nordqvist