Sleep deprivation and developmental health

Sleep is important in brain growth and can have long-term effects on development and health.

Science shows a lack of sleep is associated with a host of problems, including:

Sleep is positively associated with social skills and peer acceptance in preschool children.

Building on this literature, researchers from the University of Hong Kong used the Chinese adaptation of the Early Development Instrument (CEDI) to measure the association between sleep duration and developmental health.

In addition to asking teachers to complete the CEDI, parents were asked to complete a family questionnaire. The family questionnaire covered children’s sleep duration, family demographics and socioeconomic status (SES), parent-child interaction, and the children’s use of electronic devices.

What did they find?

Total sleep duration per day n
≥ 13 2 (0.4%)
11-12 (NIH* recommended duration) 61 (11.0%)
9-10 390 (70.5%)
> 7-8 87 (15.7%)
≤ 7 (sleep deprivation) 13 (2.4%)
*NIH stands for National Institutes of Health

Meeting the recommended 11-12 hours of sleep was associated with better developmental health in preschool children. In contrast, children who slept for 8 hours or less were less likely to have “very ready” CEDI domains in the Social Competence, Emotional Maturity, and Communication Skills and General Knowledge domains. Furthermore, being sleep deprived was associated with worse developmental health, more hyperactivity and inattention, and less prosocial behavior.

What influences sleep duration?

  • Higher family SES and a mother with a university degree or higher was associated with greater sleep duration.
  • More frequent parent-child interactions were associated with greater sleep duration, especially when engaging in recreational activities.
  • Preschool children using electronic devices for more than 3 hours per day slept 21 minutes less than children using electronic devices for less than 1 hour per day.

What does it mean?

The results support the current NIH recommendations for sleep, meaning preschool children should be sleeping for 11-12 hours per night.

A solution for children who fail to reach that mark may be to increase the frequency of parent-child interactions, particularly recreational activities. These could improve children’s self-regulation and result in better sleeping patterns and developmental health.