Children who lack sleep have increased risk for emotional disorders

- We all come into this world needing to sleep more than we need to be awake. By the age of 5, a child has spent as much time asleep as awake.

Experts say children 6 to 12 years old need an average of 10 hours of sleep every night. 13 to 15 year olds need an average of 9 and a half hours sleep.

“Sleep problems early in life lead to anxiety and depression later on,” said Dr. Candice Alfano a clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor at the University of Houston. “What we don’t know is why.”
Alfano is conducting a study to find out.

The study involves healthy children between the ages of 7 and 11.

“We are experimentally manipulating the sleep of children and by that I mean we are restricting the sleep of children,” said Alfano.

But not by a great amount Alfano says. Just a couple of hours for a couple of nights in a row. The study is trying to determine how the children process emotional information.

The same parts of the brain that are impacted by sleep are the same parts of the brain that controls how we respond to things emotionally says Alfano. After just two nights of poor sleep, Alfano says she’s found children derive less pleasure from positive things, are less reactive to them and less likely to recall details about those positive experiences later.

“So they’re not responding to things at the same level of excitement that we would like to see,” said Alfano.
Alfano says parents should consider sleep just as important as nutrition and exercise.

“If your child tends to fall asleep every time they’re in a car or they’re sitting quietly or they are doing something that doesn’t take a lot of physical or mental energy chances are their night time sleep is inadequate,” Alfano said.

If you haven’t already done it, Alfano advises parents to start getting their kids on a consistent sleep schedule before school starts and keep bedrooms dark since it’s still light out at 8 o’clock at night.

She also recommends turning off all devices like phones and computers an hour before bedtime. 

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