Importance of Sleep for Children

A growing problem of sleep deprivation among children and adolescents has made way for an ever-growing issue for debate in the world of psychology. With continuous distractions and responsibilities at home, school, and any extracurricular activities, children and adolescents are becoming more and more sleep deprived, which ultimately hurts them in the long run.

Especially nowadays, it is so easy for students to interact with one another without actually being in each other’s presence. Video games and electronic entertainment are a huge time consumer for a very large number of children today, and with modern technology, it’s not uncommon to see kids staying up late with their friends every night on a video game instead of doing their schoolwork. A study from 2014 examined children, aged 8-13, over time found that sleep efficiency for every child in the study was below 90%, which is considered a characteristic of poor sleep quality. (Kelly & El-sheikh). This is more of a concern than a child just being worn-out from losing a few hours sleep throughout the week though. Lack of sleep in both childhood and adolescence causes many issues that, in most cases, the children and teens will not even know they are experiencing. This is due to the fact that these problems pertain more to the mental capabilities of the child, rather than physical capabilities.

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As a child, this lack of sleep is occurring at a critical time in a human’s life when the brain focuses on cognitive abilities and emotional development. So, with supporting research presented in Developmental Psychology and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the different findings about the effects of sleep deprivation on children and adolescents can be both analyzed and applied to related concepts.

In order to fully understand the consequences of lack of sleep in children, it is important to look at the consequences from three different studies done on this topic in modern psychology. A study conducted in 2012 investigated if sleep-associated consolidation of vocabulary is necessary for word learning across development (Henderson). One of the interesting findings from this study was that sleep itself helps us to retain new words we learn, even into adulthood. This does not just mean time passing, it means getting quality sleep (Henderson). Another important aspect this study found was that children apply a dual memory system when learning new vocabulary, and sleep is an extremely important part in this process (Henderson). This helps show how important it is that children get adequate time for sleep, because this is when they store new vocabulary and information into their long-term memory. This is supported by the research done in another study conducted in 2015 in Germany that observed changes in cognitive performance among children based on naturally occurring sleep behaviors (Konen, Dirk, & Schmiedek).

Similar to the first study, this study was designed to test how sleep affects the cognitive abilities of children. A critical aspect found in this study was that sleep quality showed a fixed positive relation with the children’s performance changes on the working memory tests (Konen et al.). This outcome supports the discoveries in the initial study because it was proven that children use a dual memory system to retain information and vocabulary during sleep. Both studies show that sleep is necessary and important for a child’s memory and other cognitive functions.

The third study that was looked at was conducted over the course of 5 years. This study was meant to examine reciprocal relations between children’s sleep and their internalizing and externalizing behavioral symptoms (Kelly & El-Sheikh). This means this study was created and formed to assess the emotional adjustments of children over a period of time and their relation to sleep and sleep deprivation. This study determined that both less sleep and worse sleep forecasted an increased level of depression, anxiety, and externalizing symptoms over time (Kelly & El-Sheikh). The results are comparable to the discoveries of the other studies because they displayed that children’s and teenagers’ emotional center needs sleep to function properly, just like how children’s mental competences also need sleep, instead of just the passage of time. But, maybe one of the more important connections between these three studies is that they all demonstrate the negative impacts that sleep deprivation has on children, whether it’s their cognitive abilities or emotional development.

The collective results of these studies in these three articles can be related to common psychological understandings about child development and sleep. For example, in our text book used in class, the fourth edition of Psychology by Saundra K. Ciccarelli and J. Noland White, the authors relate the concerns demonstrated in these studies about sleep deprivation to upper-elementary/adolescent students (Ciccarelli & White). As stated in the book, “students, for example, may stay up all night to study for an important test the next day. In doing so, they will lose more information than they gain, as a good night’s sleep is important for memory and the ability to think well” (Ciccarelli & White). This shows that as children and even teenagers, who are still developing, grow and start school earlier in the day, there can be undesirable costs academically, if they suffer from lack of sleep on school nights. The restorative theory of sleep, as mentioned in in the fourth edition of Psychology, states that “during sleep, chemicals that were used up during the day’s activities are replenished and cellular damage is repaired.” This shows that sleep is necessary for basic human function, so we can operate to the best of our abilities every single day. This is true for children and adolescents and is possibly even more important than it is for fully developed humans.

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