Bad sleep habits in children may begin earlier in life than sleep experts thought. According to a McGill University study, sleep problems may develop by age eight.
Researchers studied the sleep patterns of 144 children in Montreal. Researchers monitored participants during the academic year using a miniature actigraph. An actigraph is a watch-like device that measures movement.
Researchers divided the participants into three groups based on their age. These groups included those between ages six and seven, those between eight and nine, and those from 10 to 11. Participants slept in their own homes throughout the year.
Researchers found that participants between age eight and 11 experienced the most unhealthy sleeping patterns. The children experienced delayed bedtimes, sleep deprivation, and inconsistent sleep schedules.
“Our findings contradict the prevailing assumption that sleep patterns remain largely unchanged during the school-age period, from six to 13 years old,” said the study’s lead author, Reut Gruber.
The sleeping problems increased in the older age groups.
It’s recommended that school-aged children receive 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Only 17% of children in the six to seven age group received the recommended amount of sleep. And only 2.5% of children in the 10 to 11 age group received the recommended amount.
These sleeping patterns can negatively impact a child’s physical health and cognitive abilities. As a result, they may be more prone to illness and may perform poorly in school.
It’s for this reason, Gruber says, that children may benefit from greater bedtime structure even as they grow older and more independent. It’s recommended that children go to sleep early, go to bed the same time every night, wake up the same time every morning, and keep technology away from their beds.
As technology becomes a part of our everyday lives, it also impacts our sleep. Children as young as two (the age when a child begins to suck their thumb out of habit) are using tablets and smartphones in the family car, at home, and in bed.
Yet, it’s shown technology in bed can suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. It can also create a learned association that the bed is a place to socialize, not sleep.
“We have biologically shifted ourselves so we can’t fall asleep earlier,” said Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School. “The amazing thing is that we are still trying to get up with the chickens.”
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