Older Children May Go to Bed Later, Sleep Less, Feel Drowsier
WebMD News Archive
May 31, 2000 -- Parents have long suspected it, and a new study bears it
out: Even before they hit their teens, school-age children start going to bed
later, sleeping less, and feeling drowsier during the day.
In addition to finding that sleep patterns change as children get older, the
study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that
children in families with high stress levels are more likely to sleep poorly.
The findings are important, experts say, because too little sleep can cause big
problems for schoolchildren.
"We're not always aware of them, but sleep disturbances can have adverse
effects on learning, attention, and behavior," says study author Avi Sadeh,
DSc, senior lecturer and chairman of child psychology at Tel Aviv University in
Sadeh explored sleep patterns among 140 children in second, fourth, and six
grades. Participants wore wrist monitors for five consecutive school nights.
They also completed a survey about sleep habits, along with their parents, and
kept daily logs on daytime sleepiness.
Sleep measures included the time the child went to sleep, the time of
wakening, number of awakenings, and length of motionless sleep. Poor sleep was
defined as a period of sleep with more than 10% wakefulness, or waking more
than three times per night.
On average, older children went to bed later, slept less overall, and had
shorter periods of true sleep than younger children, with sixth graders
sleeping an hour less than second graders. The researchers also found that
girls had fewer awakenings and more motionless sleep than boys.
Doctors say sports, homework, and the Internet often keep children up. But
"in terms of learning and development, sleep is just as important as
extracurricular activities," says Gary Montgomery, MD, director of the
sleep center at Scottish Rite Children's Hospital and clinical assistant
professor of pulmonology at Morehouse School of Medicine, both in Atlanta.
Over time, late bedtimes cause body rhythms to shift. "In a few years,
bedtime can get delayed until 3 a.m., causing major disruptions in academic
performance and family life," Montgomery says. "So we retrain sleep and
wake cycles so that kids get at least eight hours on a regular basis."