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Just 27 extra minutes of sleep can improve kids’ behaviour: Study

That’s the average amount of extra sleep researchers found kids need to be more alert and focused in school.

The McGill University study Impact of Sleep Extension and Restriction on Children’s Emotional Lability and Impulsivity appears in the November issue of Pediatrics.

“A modest extension in sleep duration was associated with significant improvement in alertness and emotional regulation whereas a modest sleep restriction had opposite effects” says the study’s author Reut Gruber by email.

For the study 34 children with no behavioural medical or academic issues between the ages of 7 and 11 were divided randomly. One group had one hour of sleep added and the other group had one hour eliminated.

Children with about 54 minutes of decreased sleep showed noticeable signs of daytime sleepiness restlessness and impulsive behaviour. It was the opposite for kids who got as little as 27 minutes of extra shuteye.

The children were measured in their schools at the start of the study and after five consecutive nights of sleep changes. Behaviour was reported by teachers using the Conner’s Global Index — a 10-item evaluation that determines the severity of a problem.

“The teachers did not know anything about the sleep status of the children” Gruber notes. “All they did was report the behaviour and functioning of the child in school.”

Gruber is a researcher and child psychologist at Montréal’s Douglas Institute and a professor at McGill University’s department of psychiatry specializing in sleep intervention and the genetics of sleep.

An estimated 64 per cent of children ages 6 to 12 go to bed later than 9 p.m. and 43 per cent of boys ages 10 to 11 sleep less than the recommended 10 to 11 hours each night, according to recent U.S. polls.

Those deprived of enough sleep don’t just exhibit yawning and drowsiness but hyperactivity crankiness impulsiveness and a short attention span, says a Rhode Island Hospital study.

Elementary school and early high school are considered critical periods for establishing healthy habits in children, Gruber notes, and as a society we are sleeping less and less something that is trickling down to youth.

Nearly half of Canadian teens report at least occasional problems falling or staying asleep with almost 13 per cent experiencing severe insomnia, the McGill study says, and up to 40 per cent of young children are estimated to have sleep problems.

The study notes that sleep problems are becoming increasingly common and hinder the ability of students to thrive in school, disrupting their ability to concentrate for long periods of time and remember what they learn in class.

Children with reduced sleep are also more likely to struggle with verbal creativity problem-solving inhibiting their behaviour and generally score lower on IQ tests.

The study proves that extending or reducing sleep directly affects psychological processes. “This opens the door to an effective, feasible way to improve children’s health and performance,” Gruber says.


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