Sleep duration linked to mental illness, brain structure changes in children: Study

PTI, Feb 9, 2020, 4:05 PM IST

London: The researchers, including those from the University of Warwick in the UK, said good sleep supports reorganization of nerve connections in the brain, making it particularly important for children, whose brains are developing rapidly.

In the study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the scientists examined the brain structures of 11,000 children of 9-11 ages and compared them with data on their daily sleep duration.

The researchers found that measures of depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and poor cognitive performance in the children were associated with shorter sleep duration.

According to the study, the depressive problems were associated with short sleep duration one year later.

The scientists said the lower volume of brain areas, including the orbitofrontal cortex present in the front portion of the brain and involved in decision making and the temporal cortex important for hearing, are associated with shorter sleep duration.

Size reduction of other brain regions like the precuneus, which is essential for episodic memory recollection, and the supramarginal gyrus, involved in the perception of space and limbs location, are also linked to poor sleep, the study noted.

“The recommended amount of sleep for children 6 to 12 years of age is 9-12 hours. However, sleep disturbances are common among children and adolescents around the world due to the increasing demand on their time from school, increased screen time use, and sports and social activities,” said study co-author Jianfeng Feng from the University of Warwick.

According to the study, the brain structure changes are associated with sleep problems, whether or not children experience depressive problems.

“Our findings showed that the behavior problems total score for children with less than 7 hours sleep were 53 percent higher on average, and the cognitive total score was 7.8 percent lower on average than for children with 9-11 hours of sleep,” Feng said.

“It highlights the importance of enough sleep in both cognition and mental health in children,” he added.

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