The Power of Sleep: Helping Children Cope with Stress and Reduce Impulsivity

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Youth Development at the University of Georgia shed light on the importance of adequate sleep to help children cope with stress and reduce impulsive behavior. Lead study author Linhao Zhang, a doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, explained that while stressful environments often lead to impulsive behavior in adolescents, not all people exhibit this trait. The study sought to identify factors contributing to this difference, and one important mechanism turned out to be sleep.

The study extensively analyzed data from the US National Institutes of Health-funded Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. The research team examined data from 11,858 children aged 9-10 and found that sleep deprivation and prolonged sleep latency were strongly associated with impulsive behavior. The researchers monitored sleep problems and impulsive behavior for two years at different intervals.

The results showed that children who got less than the recommended nine hours of sleep or took more than 30 minutes to fall asleep were more likely to exhibit impulsive behavior, such as acting without planning, thrill-seeking, and lack of perseverance. Interestingly, if sleep problems did not occur during the study, impulsive behavior was less likely to occur in the future.

One of the key findings of the study was the role of neurological hyper-connectivity. The researchers found that adolescents’ brains remain active even during periods of rest, which may exacerbate the link between stressful situations, sleep, and impulsivity. Zhang plans to further explore this connection in future studies, especially as it relates to ADHD and its implications for intervention and counseling programs.

The findings are significant, highlighting the importance of sleep for cognitive and behavioral development. In addition, they suggest cost-effective interventions to promote the psychological development of children experiencing family stress. Zhang emphasized that sleep as a behavior is modifiable, making it a feasible target for intervention compared to the more difficult and costly task of changing a stressful environment.

Zhang also addressed the issue of sleep deprivation outside of stressful environments, noting that adolescents’ circadian rhythms often develop a preference for going to bed late and sleeping in. This natural preference is often disrupted by early school starts and late nights spent doing homework.

This study adds to the growing body of research emphasizing the critical role of sleep in child development. It serves as a reminder to parents, educators, and policymakers of the importance of prioritizing healthy sleep for children, especially those under stressful circumstances. By addressing sleep issues, we can potentially improve children’s cognitive and behavioral performance and give them a better foundation for future success.

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