"Extending sleep opens the door to an effective, feasible way to improve children's health and performance," says study author Reut Gruber, director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Research Center in Quebec, Canada.
Gruber and colleagues set out to find how behavior was affected by sleep when it came to elementary students. Researchers, with parental permission, enrolled 34 students that ranged in ages seven to 11 years of age. All the children were considered healthy and without sleeping problems or academic issues.
The study spanned one week, wherein half of the students were put to bed early. Said students gained an extra 27 minutes of sleep per night. The other half of the students were put to bed later, and lost an average of 54 minutes of sleep each evening.
Teachers were not made aware of which students were given more or less sleep. The teachers they reported a significant difference in child behavior for those who were sleep deprived of sleep. They noted irritability, impulsiveness, and general crankiness compared to well-rested classmates. Children lacking sleep were more apt to cry, lose their tempers, and become frustrated in both work and play.
"We know that sleep deprivation can affect memory, creativity, verbal creativity and even things like judgment and motivation and being (engaged) in the classroom," explains Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. "When you're sleepy, (being engaged) isn't going to happen."
The lack of sleep also has a domino effect, according to Owens, as children who lack capability of coping well during the day can have social, school, and general difficulty in everyday life.
Children of elementary age should be receiving 10 to 11 hours of sleep; however, most experts are quick to admit that no two children are the same. It is also important that parents look for clues regarding frustration levels in children.
"Kids in this age range should not be sleepy during the day," Owens says. "If they are falling asleep in the car or watching TV, that's a red flag."
Another telltale sign of mild sleep deprivation is if the children tend to sleep in for longer periods of time during weekends and vacation periods. If they are consistently sleeping more during these times, then it is very possible they are lacking in their needs for sleep.
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