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Another Good Reason Kids Need Enough Sleep

By now you should know that if your child gets the appropriate amount of sleep each night, they do better in school, excel more in the activties they attempt and...

By now you should know that if your child gets the appropriate amount of sleep each night, they do better in school, excel more in the activties they attempt and have fewer behavioral problems than kids who don’t.

A new study suggests that while your child is sleeping, the connections between the left and the right hemispheres of their brain strengthen, helping their brain functions develop.

Scientists have known for years that during early childhood the brain is changing constantly. New connections are forming and others are being removed.  A fatty layer called “myelin” forms around the nerve fibers and strengthens, allowing the brain to transfer information faster.

These maturing nerve fibers lead to improvement in skills such as language, attention, and impulse control. How does sleep contribute to the development of these connections? Scientists aren’t sure.

Too help find out, a research team, led by Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher, and Monique LeBourgeois, assistant professor in integrative physiology at University of Coloroda Boulder, used electroencephalograms to measure the brain activity of eight sleeping children multiple times at the ages of 2, 3 and 5 years.

"Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres," Kurth said.

They found that connections in the brain became stronger during sleep as the children aged. They also found that the strength of the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased by as much as 20 percent over a night's sleep.

"There are strong indications that sleep and brain maturation are closely related, but at this time, it is not known how sleep leads to changes in brain structure," Kurth said.

The next step will be to look at how sleep disruption may affect brain development and behavior. "I believe inadequate sleep in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the emergence of developmental or mood disorders," Kurth said.

How much sleep do children 2 to 5 years-of-age need? A lot, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Their website breaks it down by age. 

  • Toddlers (1-3 years) need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 – hour period, which can include naps.
  • Preschoolers (5-12 years) need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep.
  • School-aged children (5-12 years) need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep.

More and more studies show how important getting the right amount of sleep is to feeling and performing your best. As parents, we know how much better we feel after getting a full nights' sleep ( I know - it's not often enough!). But for children, an adequate amount of sleep not only helps them feel more rested but actually assists in healthy brain developemnt. 

Sources: News Staff, http://www.science20.com/news_articles/go_bed_brain_connections_young_children_strengthen_during_sleep-124917

 http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More

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