Poor Sleep In Early Childhood Linked to Later Cognitive and Behavioral Problems

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, MD MPH Chief, Division of General Pediatrics Director, Pediatric Population Health Management Director, Raising Healthy Hearts Clinic

Dr. Taveras

Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, MD MPH
Chief, Division of General Pediatrics
Director, Pediatric Population Health Management
Director, Raising Healthy Hearts Clinic
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

MedicalResearch.com: What are the primary findings of this study and why are they important?

Response: The primary findings of this study are that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral functioning as reported by their mothers and independently by their teachers at age 7. These behaviors included poorer executive function and more hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, conduct problems, and peer relationship problems.

MedicalResearch.com: What has been known about the impact of insufficient sleep on the cognitive and behavioral function of children?

Response: Previous studies in children have shown that shorter sleep duration and
chronically getting too little sleep affect a range of health, behavior, and developmental outcomes.

MedicalResearch.com: What were the specific goals of this study?

Response: We set out to look specifically at the role of sleep in influencing neurobehavioral processes including executive function, behavior, or social-emotional functioning.

MedicalResearch.com: What did the study find about the impact of insufficient sleep at different ages?

Response: We found that insufficient sleep in the preschool (ages 3-4 years) and early school age years (ages 5 to 7) was associated with poorer mother- and teacher-report of a range of neurobehavioral processes in mid-childhood.
The associations between insufficient sleep and overall poorer functioning persisted even after adjustment for many potential confounders of the relationship between sleep and neurobehavior.

In contrast to the preschool and early school age results, associations between insufficient sleep in infancy and later neurobehavioral functioning were inconsistent. We did not find a lasting effect of the shortest durations of sleep (

MedicalResearch.com: It looks like insufficient sleep was less prevalent in early school age children. Is there any suggestion that improved sleep practice at older ages could “make up for” sleep deprivation at younger ages?

Response: Our findings suggest that early poor sleep (at 3-4 years) had persistent effects years later (at age 7 years) on neurobehavioral outcomes but this doesn’t mean that improving sleep at a later age isn’t beneficial. We just didn’t study the question in that way.

MedicalResearch.com: Overall, what do these findings indicate about the importance of sufficient sleep for children’s cognitive and behavioral health?

Response: Our results indicate that insufficient sleep in children has important effects on a child’s ability to self-regulate their behavior and other important outcomes that allow a child to perform well in school, at home, and in their relationships with their peers.

Our findings suggest that interventions to promote optimal sleep duration in early childhood could have positive effects on cognitive and behavioral functioning.

MedicalResearch.com: How do these findings fit those of your other studies on the impact of insufficient sleep?

Response: Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic diseases in mothers and children including obesity. The results of this new study suggest that one way in which poor sleep may be associated with these chronic disease outcomes is through sleep’s effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess energy intake.

MedicalResearch.com: What needs to be investigated next? Are other studies based on participants in Project Viva underway?

Response: It will be important to study the long term effects that poor sleep has on health and development as children enter adolescence. These studies are already underway in Project Viva.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Elsie M. Taveras, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Kristen L. Bub, Matthew W. Gillman, Emily Oken. Prospective Study of Insufficient Sleep and Neurobehavioral Functioning among School-Age Children. Academic Pediatrics, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.acap.2017.02.001

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Last Updated on March 11, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD