According to the study authors, not much is known about how healthy children are affected by sleep deprivation. Their goal was to study this issue.
The children involved were part of another study, the aptly named DREAM (Daily Rest, Eating, and Activity Monitoring) study.
In this study, the children underwent alternating weeks of restricted sleep and extended sleep. There was a one-week period in between.
Altogether, 100 healthy kids with no sleep problems between the ages of 8 and 12 took part in the 2022 study.
The children’s bedtimes were altered to be either one hour later than usual (sleep restriction) or one hour earlier (sleep extension). Children still woke up at their normal times.
The researchers then asked both parents and children to assess the children’s health-related quality of life using various questionnaires.
Houston Methodist sleep expert and pulmonologist Dr. Philip Pirtle called the study “well done,” explaining that what the researchers found was that sleep loss, even for as little as a week, can decrease both a child and their parents’ perceived quality of life in children.
“There were significant negative impacts on perceived physical well-being as well as the ability to cope with the school environment,” he noted.
Pirtle further observed that it is not known how these findings might impact children in the long term or in a more diverse population.
Dr. Azizi Seixas, Associate Director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the University of Miami Health System, said this is a “wakeup call to parents” that they should take sleep seriously — for both their children and themselves.
“From food choices to exercise to coping skills and social engagement — all of these components of a healthy life can be impacted positively or negatively by sleep,” he explained.
Pirtle added that this particular study is significant because most studies of this nature have involved kids with sleep disorders. This new study showed a direct connection between sleep restriction and health-related quality of life in healthy children.
“This demonstrates that all children need an adequate quantity and quality of sleep to maintain their sense of well-being and ability to cope with a school environment,” said Pirtle.
Seixas suggests making sleep a priority for kids as well as adults.
“That means everyone practicing good sleep hygiene, especially when it comes to disconnecting from devices,” he advised.
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Seixas further advises that parents should create and maintain regular bedtimes that will provide children’s developing brains and bodies with enough rest.
“Adopting and sustaining a consistent bedtime routine — regardless of the time of year or occasion — can help normalize sleep,” he said.
Seixas concluded by noting that sleep is “a zero-sum equation” and that a poor night’s sleep can affect a person the following day.
“Sleep debt is a misnomer. A more accurate term would be bankruptcy. Once it’s gone, it cannot be repaid,” said Seixas.