Poor sleep in childhood could lead to long-term emotional problems - study

child screaming in bed
Reduced sleep can lead to more than just a cranky kid the next day, researchers have found. Photo credit: Getty.

Children who don't get enough sleep are at risk of developing long-term emotional problems, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston found that inadequate rest at nighttime may lead to detrimental effects on children's emotional wellbeing.

The team analysed more than 50 children aged seven to 11 years old for over a week in the innovative study, and the participants completed an emotional assessment twice - once after a full nights' sleep, and again after two nights of reduced sleep.

The researchers then asked the children to view a range of pictures and movie clips that featured both positive and negative emotions, and recorded how they responded.

They found that there was evidence of heart-related emotional regulation in the youngsters, and objective facial expressions, which Professor Candice Alfano said proved that "insufficient sleep elevates children's psychiatric risk".

"After sleep restriction, we observed changes in the way children experience, regulate and express their emotions," she explained. "But, somewhat to our surprise, the most significant alterations were found in response to positive rather than negative emotional stimuli."

Alfano said the findings would help them understand how poor sleep could spill over into children's everyday lives, and negatively affect their social and emotional coping mechanisms.

"The experience and expression of positive emotions are essential for children's friendships, healthy social interactions and effective coping. Our findings might explain why children who sleep less on average have more peer-related problems," she said.

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