Insufficient Sleep Could Harm Developing Brains

August 12, 2022

Less Than 9 Hours of Sleep Can Cause Changes in Children’s Memory, Intelligence, and Well-Being

New research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine has found that elementary school students who get less than nine hours of sleep each night exhibit notable differences in specific brain regions compared to those who get the advised nine to 12 hours of sleep. Co-author Ze Wang explains more about this intriguing research stating, “We found that children who had insufficient sleep, less than nine hours per night, at the beginning of the study had less grey matter or smaller volume in certain areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory and inhibition control compared to those with healthy sleep habits. These differences persisted after two years, a concerning finding that suggests long-term harm for those who do not get enough sleep.” 

Additionally, the research details that these brain changes were associated with more severe mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and impulsive behavior. The study also demonstrated that inadequate sleep was linked to difficulties with problem-solving and decision-making. For optimal health, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children aged 6 to 12 sleep for nine to 12 hours every night. 

These findings are problematic for many autism parents who are already familiar with the challenges of obtaining a good night’s sleep for their children. As a 2019 Pediatrics study reports, sleep issues are pervasive in kids with developmental disabilities. In fact, according to the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire, 50% of children with autism demonstrate a variety of sleep problems. Since children with autism already experience various developmental challenges and do not need more, establishing a good bedtime routine for kids on the spectrum is particularly important. Earlier this summer, Web MD featured a list of suggestions to help parents of children with autism get optimum sleep. 

Tips include:

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