Sleep Deprivation Affects Academics, Behavior

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- When a child is sleep deprived, it shows at school.

In a study of 74 healthy 6- to 12-year-old students, experimentally reducing the duration of their sleep at home for 1 week resulted in academic and attention problems significant enough that teachers could detect differences between children who had had enough sleep and those who had not--without being told which ones were which (Sleep 2005;28:1280-6).

The results strongly suggest that information about sleep should be obtained for all children who present with academic difficulty or behavior problems, particularly those with inattentive symptoms, Gahan Fallone, Ph.D., said during a report of his findings at a conference for science reporters sponsored by the American Medical Association.

"As clinicians, we have to ask about sleep in patients who present with these behavior indicators," said Dr. Fallone of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, Springfield, Mo.

Increasing evidence suggests that children and adolescents are not getting as much sleep as they need to function optimally in school. Most of the studies demonstrating a link between lack of sleep and adverse effects on school performance have used either self-reports of sleep duration or laboratory-induced sleep deprivation.

This study attempted to isolate the specific effects of sleep loss by using home-based sleep restriction in healthy, well-functioning children who had no mood or psychiatric diagnoses, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In a 3-week period during the school year, children slept on their typical schedule the first week. During week 2, they were randomized to either an optimized sleep condition in which they spent 10 or more hours in bed or to a restricted condition in which children in third grade and above spent 6.5 hours or less in bed while those in first and second grade were allowed no more than 8 hours in bed. In week 3, the children switched sleep conditions.

Several methods were used to ensure compliance, including daily sleep diaries, twice-daily phone calls, and wrist activity monitors. At the end of each week, teachers were asked to rate the children on 34 items that assessed attention problems, academic performance, hyperactive-impulsive behavior, oppositional-aggressive behavior, and mood. …