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"But if you find that your child seems to be under the weather and can't concentrate, or you notice their mood fluctuate more than normal, then you may want to help them get more sleep," Ranum says.
He says it is difficult to give advice that fits for all families and all children. But having a consistent wake-up time in the morning is perhaps the most important way to develop healthy sleep habits.
And maybe future research will show that sleep can help in treating children's mental health problems.
The research group has also investigated how many people get too little sleep, and whether or not too little sleep tends to persist throughout childhood.
Very few six-year-olds (1.1%) slept less than 7 hours, which is below the internationally recommended sleep guidelines for this age group.
But as the children got older, the number who were not getting enough sleep gradually increased (at age 8: 3.9%; age 10: 4.2% and age 12: 13.6%).
Children who were getting too little sleep when they were 6 years old did not necessarily suffer from a lack of sleep when they got older, with most of them meeting the recommended sleep duration. But if insufficient sleep started later, at age 10 for example, the habit tended to persist. Fewer of these children outgrew their insufficient sleep pattern as they got older.
The study results were based on the average measurement of sleep over a whole week. Could this hide many individual nights with too little sleep? Or was there perhaps a difference between weekdays and weekends?
The researchers counted the number of individual nights with less than 7 hours of sleep per week and found that quite a lot of children experienced one or more nights with less than 7 hours of sleep (age 6: 15.1%; age 8: 39.1%; age10: 45.7%; age 12: 64.5%).
In other words, more children had single nights with too little sleep compared to how many on average (over a week) slept too little. Those who had individual nights with fewer sleep hours continued this pattern as they aged, suggesting that such a sleep pattern often did not change.
"Six- to ten-year-olds tended to sleep less on weekends. This trend flipped between the ages of ten and twelve, when longer sleep times on weekends and not enough sleep on weekdays became more common," says Lars Wichstrøm, also at NTNU's Department of Psychology and a co-author of the study.
"We don't know what the consequences are of a few nights here and there with too little sleep. But we do know that after a night without enough sleep, we're moodier and less able to concentrate, which can affect how we function that day, including at school. So it's advisable to get enough sleep," says Steinsbekk.
But remember that most children who average too little sleep over the course of a week won't continue that pattern. The vast majority of children outgrow insufficient sleep habits.
The study findings suggest that parents don't need to worry unnecessarily. Some adjustments to sleep routines may be advisable if your child is affected by lack of sleep. But more major measures may not be needed. Source:
Norwegian University of Science and Technology Journal reference:
Ranum, B.M., et al. (2019) Association Between Objectively Measured Sleep Duration and Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders in Middle Childhood. JAMA Network Open . doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.18281 .
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