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Study: Inadequate sleep makes children susceptible to emotional disorders later in life

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Lack of sufficient sleep affects children by crippling their emotional processing mechanisms, making such sleep deprived children more susceptible to emotional and mental disorders later in life.

The researchers, from the University of Houston’s Sleep and Anxiety Center, are currently conducting a National Institute of Health funded research in which they are temporarily limiting sleeping durations in 50 children between 7 and 11 years, in a bid to understand how sleep affects the child’s assessment of an emotional experience later on.

Their current findings show that insufficient sleep destabilizes a child’s emotional wellbeing by inducing more negative emotions, as well as corrupting positive experiences; this corruption occurs in as little as two days of sleep insufficiency.

The corruption of positive emotional experiences results in a child not enjoying an experience as much as he/she could, being less enthusiastic about these positive experiences, and makes it harder for the child to recall the experience at a later point.

A sleeping child

A sleeping child

This is a sharp contrast when compared with children who are receiving sufficient sleep in the study, as these detrimental effects are not apparent.

According to Candice Alfano, the lead researcher, “[in children,] continually experiencing inadequate sleep can eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and other types of emotional problems. Parents therefore need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity.”

The ongoing study is essentially a follow up to a review that the researchers had conducted last year, which determined that most previous studies had focused on the emotional state after sleep deprivation without seeking the emotional mechanism (s) that became maladapted due to the lack of sufficient sleep.

“There are multiple emotional processes that seem to be disrupted by poor sleep,” said Alfano. “For example, our ability to self-monitor, pick up on others’ nonverbal cues and accurately identify others’ emotions diminishes when sleep is inadequate.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the children involved in the study need 9-11 hours of sleep.