Monday, November 22, 2010

Nighttime Sleep Essential for Mental Development in Young Children

Good nighttime sleep at a very early age may help kick-start cognitive development and give kids a leg-up in school. The amount of nighttime sleep – not daytime naps – is the key component to advanced executive function in children, a study included in the November/December issue of Child Development reports.

Executive function is another name for a specific group of mental skill areas essential for success in the classroom. Skills include attentiveness, self-discipline, organization, memorization and the abilities to plan, think and work with others. Executive function develops rapidly across the first six years of life. Little is known about why some children are more successful at developing those skills than their peers.

The study followed 60 Canadian children between their 12 and 26 months of age. At the 12 and 18 month mark, each parent completed sleep diaries by recording when their child slept and for what length. Researchers tested the children’s executive function at 18 and 26 months of age.

Results show children who slept mostly at night did better at most executive function-related tests, especially the tasks involving impulse control. The number of times the children woke per night did not impact test results. The findings held true even after the authors adjusted for factors such as socio-economic class, parents’ education level and children’s general cognitive skills.

The authors of the study note that infant sleep later sets in motion the development of more advanced executive skills. This may help flesh out recent findings that linked earlier bedtimes to higher test scores in school-aged children.

The AASM recommends infants get a minimum of 14 hours of sleep per day for healthy development. Toddlers should sleep 12 to 14 hours per night. Start your child’s health habits out on the right foot and make their sleep a priority.

Photo by doriana_s

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