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A Little Bit of Extra Sleep Pays Off Big for Kids

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 15, 2012 -- Twenty-seven minutes. That's how much extra sleep a school-aged child needs per night to be brighter and more productive the following day.

According to a new study, kids who slept that extra amount each night were less impulsive, less easily distracted, and less likely to have temper tantrums or cry often and easily. By contrast, losing just shy of an hour’s worth of sleep had the opposite effects on behavior and mood.

“Small changes in bedtime and daily routine could go a long way,” says researcher Reut Gruber, PhD. She is an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Conversely, “one more video game and staying a little longer in a friend's house ... could add up and have a negative impact on the daytime functioning of healthy children.”

The findings are published in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Sleepless in Grade School

Gruber’s study included 34 kids aged 7 to 11 with no sleep, medical, behavior, or academic problems. The children's bedtimes were moved up or back an hour relative to their usual bedtimes for one week. Their daytime behaviors were rated by their teachers and parents at the end of the week. Children slept wearing a wristwatch-like device to monitor their activity and sleep.

Those kids who got 27.36 minutes more sleep per night showed improvements, while those who got less sleep did not.

Is this modest amount really enough? 

“In daily life, if you think of the impact of short power naps, usually about 15 to 20 minutes during the day, you can see that this amount of sleep can have a significant positive impact on mood, attention, and well-being,” says Gruber.

Most school-aged children go to bed later than 9 p.m., and 43% of boys ages 10 to 11 sleep less than the recommended amount each night, according to information in the new study.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, children aged 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night.

Yawning and drowsiness are not the only signs that a student is getting too little sleep, Gruber says. Other symptoms include hyperactivity, crankiness, impulsiveness, and a short attention span.

9 Steps for More Sleep

As parents know, most school-aged kids would do anything to stay up even just a little bit later each night. But implementing nine simple steps can help assure that your kids get the sleep they need and are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day.

1. Lead by example. “Prioritize sleep in your daily choices,” Gruber says.

2. Set a fixed bedtime and wake time. “The body adapts to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if the sleep schedule is relatively consistent, with no more than one hour of bedtime difference between school nights and weekends or holidays,” she says.

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