Infants who sleep less struggle more with early growth, U of A study says

It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep is important for growth and development. But new research from the University of Alberta says it might be even more critical to infants than initially thought.

A study led by associate professor of pediatrics Piush Mandhane showed kids who sleep less may struggle to develop language and cognitive skills by the age of two.

The study found that children who sleep less than 12 hours in a 24-hour period did worse on cognitive scores compared to the children who slept more.

The children who slept less than 12 hours had more trouble with language and were 10 points lower on their scores compared to the others.

With the standard deviation at 15 points, the drop is significant.

“We do think that sleep is important for consolidation for what you see and learn during the day,” Mandhane told CBC’s Radio Active. “If you don’t sleep enough then that consolidation doesn’t happen as efficiently.”

Mandhane said there were a few different reasons why certain children weren’t sleeping as much, but the biggest was snoring.

“Not all snoring is the same — there are some children who will snore for just a little bit in the first year of life and it’ll eventually go away,” he said. “Those kids didn’t have any problems.”

It was the children who were consistent snorers — from allergies or colds — that showed the poorer test results.

“The development just isn’t where you would expect it to be,” he said.

Mandhane’s next question is whether the effects of lack of sleep are reversible. They’ve been following some children for eight years, so Mandhane figures he’ll be able to study their cognitive abilities.

As for whether a parent should worry about their child’s sleep patterns, Mandhane said the first thing to look at is the child’s “sleep hygiene,” or the environment they’re sleeping in.

Screen time and bedtime patterns could be factors in the lack of sleep for a child.

“If your child is snoring and it seems to be not going away, and they’re snoring outside of colds, that’s a time where you should probably of talk to your child’s doctor,” Mandhane said.

“[Make] sure that the child’s sleep environment is really conducive to going to sleep.”

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