Scientists have warned that children who stay up late at night are being deprived of sleep, which can cause damage to the brain and limit overall development.
New brain scans and studies, published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience journal have increased the urgency of their warning, showing evidence that late nights and lack of sleep could be damaging children’s brains more than previously thought.
How does sleep deprivation affect children?
Researchers from the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, have discovered that sleep deprivation affects the development of children’s brains, especially in the frontal and posterior lobes.
The frontal lobes are responsible for problem-solving, memory, and social function, while the posterior lobes are responsible for coordination, attention, and spatial reasoning.
Dr. Salome Kurth, a lead researcher and first author of the study, said: “The effects will not be visible immediately but will have long-lasting repercussions.”
How does sleeplessness have this effect?
“The process of sleep may be involved in the brain ‘wiring’ in childhood and thus affect brain maturation. The research shows an increase in the need for sleep in posterior brain regions, especially in children,” explained Dr. Kurth.
Kurth and her team, including Professor Monique LeBourgeois at the University of Colorado Boulder and Professor Sean Deoni at Brown University, studied the effects of sleep deprivation on a group of children aged 5-12.
The team measured the children’s deep sleep patterns before the study and after 50% sleep deprivation, which was implemented by playing games and reading bedtime stories well past their usual bedtime. It was found that the lack of sleep increased the amount of slow-wave activity in all the children’s brains, particularly in the posterior regions. The results suggest that the brain circuitry within these regions are significantly affected a lack of sleep and would function much more optimally if deep-sleep was sufficient.
What else is affected?
Myelin is a type of fatty tissue in the brain that insulates nerve fibers and improves the speed of impulse conductivity, which makes it one of the cornerstones of brain development. Researchers found that sleep loss during childhood could result in an under-developed and less active layer of myelin, which could go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Dr. Kurth said: “The results show that the sleep loss effect on the brain is specific to certain regions and that this correlates with the myelin content of the directly adjacent regions: the more myelin in a specific area, the more the effect appears similar to adults. It is possible that this effect is temporary and only occurs during a sensitive period when the brain undergoes developmental changes.”
Further studies are being conducted on how sleep deprivation affects the brain development of children, especially long-term, but for now, researchers are certain that going to bed late has a different and negative impact on children’s brains than adults.
How much sleep is sufficient?
According to the Sleep Foundation, toddlers require 11-14 hours of sleep per day, pre-schoolers 10-13 hours, and 9-11 hours for children aged 6-13.
Bedtime should be scheduled anywhere from 6pm to 9pm and no later to allow children to get sufficient deep sleep rest.