(Healthline) – Early school start times, screen related distractions, and other external pressures have contributed to 52 percent of American children ages 6 to 17 getting less than the 9 hours per night recommended by pediatricians.
That lack of Zzz’s has effects for a child’s development, according to a new study being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2019 National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.
The study hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.
What researchers found was that compared to their sleep deprived peers, the 48 percent of kids who did sleep enough had a 44 percent higher likelihood of demonstrating curiosity in learning new information and skills.
They were also 33 percent more likely to complete all their homework and 28 percent more likely to care about doing well in school, the researchers said.
Risk factors for poor sleep include living below the federal poverty line, lack of caregiver education on the importance of adequate sleep, increased digital media use, adverse home-life situations, and mental health issues.
Hoi See Tsao, MD, a pediatrician in Boston, Massachusetts, and a study co-author, called this chronic sleep loss “a serious public health problem among children.”
The health effects of too little sleep
The dangers of not getting enough sleep go beyond mere academic performance, experts say.
For one thing, lack of sleep combined with greater exposure to germs at school makes it more likely a young person will get sick.
“Your physical health can begin to take a beating when you skimp on the nightly rest you need,” Sujay Kansagra, MD, the director of Duke University’s pediatric neurology sleep medicine program in North Carolina, told Healthline.
Developmentally, a lack of sleep is also problematic.
“Young people, especially teens, are still developing their frontal lobe and decision making skills, but when sleep deprivation is exacerbated, your frontal lobe is most impaired,” Kansagra said.
“This can cause mental function to be reduced similar to that of a drunk person, where decision making processes are delayed and impaired, attention is shortened, and memory functioning is decreased,” he said.
The effects can be more than memory lapses, too.
“Sleep deprived kids have more behavioral problems, more academic problems, more health problems, more risk-taking behaviors, and more anxiety and mood related problems,” Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and director of the behavioral sleep program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, told Healthline.
In addition, she said, “Sleep deprived kids have more sleep terrors, nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting.”
In addition, too little sleep can increase a child’s risk for health problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes, says Jessica Brown, DO, MPH, a board certified expert in pediatric sleep medicine at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health in Louisiana.
But perhaps most concerning is the link between too little sleep and teen self-harm and suicide risk, according to Susan Malone, PhD, MSN, a senior research scientist at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing in New York.
She highlights a 2018 research letter in the journal JAMA PediatricsTrusted Source warning of the risks of less than 8 hours of sleep on teens’ self-harm risk.
“The strongest link was between mood and self-harm, such that high school students sleeping less than 6 hours were more than three times as likely to report considering suicide, making a suicide attempt plan, or attempting suicide than high school students sleeping 8 hours or more,” Malone told Healthline. “Moreover, high school students sleeping less than 6 hours were more than four times as likely to report an attempted suicide.”