Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Does Impaired Sleep in Children Cause Mental Health Problems in Children? (#1 of 2)
October 3, 2022

Found in age groups

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A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 99Does Impaired Sleep in Children Cause Mental Health Problems in Children? (#1 of 2)

I reviewed the literature to answer this question and found 35 relevant published studies. Here are my conclusions with some examples of the studies.


1. All 35 studies agree that all children at every age who are not sleeping well are at a higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes. Blog Posts 15.

  • Among 800 children at 6 and 8 years, short sleep duration predicted symptoms of emotional disorders 2 years later.

Emotional disorders did not predict sleep durations at any age. Unlike other studies that used parent reports or self-administered questionnaires to assess mental health problems, this study utilized objective measures of sleep duration and clinical interviews with psychologists. Also, short sleep was defined as sleeping only 30 minutes less than the average duration for the age group; highlighting the clinical importance of small differences in sleep duration in affecting mental health outcome.

  • Children, 30-36 months, were allowed to nap or were experimentally deprived of a single afternoon nap. Objective videotapes and sleep measurements were made. Then, the challenge was giving the children either a solvable or an unsolvable puzzle. When deprived of a single afternoon nap, with the solvable puzzle, positive emotions were dampened when expected and with the unsolvable puzzle, negative emotions were increased under these challenging conditions. 

For the no-nap challenges, with the unsolvable puzzle, the children were less able to understand that something was wrong with the puzzle, less able to admit that they were unable to complete the task. They engaged in more thumb sucking, hair twirling, lip or nail biting. They were more visually fixated on the misfit piece, and more, incorrectly insistent that they had completed the puzzle. Also, for the no-nap challenges, with the solvable puzzle, they showed less joy and pride when completed. 

2. Many studies highlight the clinical importance of small differences in sleep duration in affecting mental health outcomes. Blog post 6.

  • Children, 7-11 years. Experimentally adding or reducing 1 hour of sleep over 5 nights. Sleep extension (27 minutes more sleep) improved emotional lability and restless-impulsive behavior. Sleep restriction increased negative affect (irritability and frustration) and caused more difficulty in modulation of impulse and emotion.
  • Adolescents.  Experimentally extending sleep (1 hour) for 5 nights. Sleep extension (13 minutes more sleep) reduced symptoms of insomnia and depression

3. Many studies show that when parents help their child sleep better, future potential mental health issues can be prevented. Blog Posts 48 and 92.

  • Children with nonregular bedtimes at ages 3, 5, and 7 years had more behavioral difficulties at 7 years.

The effect of nonregular bedtimes was cumulative-the more years of nonregular bedtimes, the worse the behavior suggesting a dose-response relationship. However, when children changed from nonregular to regular bedtimes, they showed improvements in their behavior.  

  • For children between 2-13 years, the parents were given a mobile app offering tailored sleep strategies to improve sleep. Over 7-14 days, ratings of difficult temperament decreased from 51% to 36%.  

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