The Seeds of Depression And Anxiety Could Lie In Childhood Sleep

Is a child’s sleep schedule a ticking time bomb for their mental health?

Is a child’s sleep schedule a ticking time bomb for their mental health?

Not getting enough sleep as a child increases the risk of developing emotional disorders later on, research finds.

Inadequate sleep creates more negative emotions and alters positive emotional experiences.

For example, after just two nights of poor sleep, children cannot get the same pleasure out of positive experiences, researchers found.

The children also found it more difficult to recall these positive experiences later on.

Poor sleep is already known to have all sorts of damaging effects, such as reducing the ability to:

  • Self-monitor.
  • Read other people’s body language.
  • Identify the emotions of other people.
  • Exercise self-control.

Dr Candice Alfano, who led the study, said:

“Healthy sleep is critical for children’s psychological well-being.

Continually experiencing inadequate sleep can eventually lead to depression, anxiety and other types of emotional problems.

Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity.

If your child has problems waking up in the morning or is sleepy during the day, then their nighttime sleep is probably inadequate.

This can result for several reasons, such as a bedtime that is too late, non-restful sleep during the night or an inconsistent sleep schedule.”

For the research, 50 children between the ages of 7 and 11 had their sleep restricted for a temporary period.

The researchers concluded that, over time, poor sleep like this is likely to increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

People without the right amount of sleep do not seek out positive and rewarding experiences that require effort.

Dr Alfano said:

“There are multiple emotional processes that seem to be disrupted by poor sleep.

For example, our ability to self-monitor, pick up on others’ nonverbal cues and accurately identify others’ emotions diminishes when sleep is inadequate.

Combine this with less impulse control, a hallmark feature of the teenage years, and sleep deprivation can create a ‘perfect storm’ for experiencing negative emotions and consequences.”

The study was published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews (Palmer & Alfano, 2016).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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