Long-lasting sleep problems in children can affect their cognitive development. This is the finding of a new study in the journal Sleep.
It links ongoing sleep problems through childhood with cognitive problems at age 17. Results show that long-lasting sleep problems may affect “executive functioning.”
These functions are a part of how the brain regulates thoughts and actions. One example is the ability to shift between two tasks. Another example is the ability to update the contents of working memory.
The study involved 916 twins. About 70 percent of them had more than one sleep problem at age 4. The majority of these sleep problems went away by the time the children reached the teen years.
But 33 percent of the children still had sleep problems at age 16. These children had lower scores on a computerized test of executive functions at age 17.
What does this mean for parents?
First, you should realize that sleep problems are very common in young children. Examples include nightmares, sleepwalking and behavioral insomnia.
These sleep disorders tend to go away as a child grows and develops. Often there is no negative impact on your child’s health.
But you should pay special attention to any problems that persist through the years. In the study, children who still had sleep problems around age 13 were more likely to have cognitive problems at age 17.
Watch for signs of obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep disorder can have a severe effect on your child’s health.
At all ages, you should observe how your child functions during the day. In some children behavioral problems may be related to an untreated sleep disorder.
Talk to your child’s doctor about any ongoing sleep problems. Early treatment will promote your child’s long-term health and well-being.