Healthy relationships send teenagers to sleep

What has the largest influence on teenagers’ sleep habits? A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviors explored this topic and found that social factors (eg, relationships with parents and peers) outperform developmental factors (eg, the timing of puberty and resultant drops in melatonin) in determining sleep patterns.

The study draws on the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a longitudinal study of children’s physical, cognitive, and social development. The sample was 974 teenagers who reported on their own sleep habits at ages 12 and 15. They also reported on social ties (eg, parental support, peer relationships), academic demands, and daily schedules, and their mothers reported on family structure and children’s physical development.

Findings showed that as children age from Year 7 to age 15, sleep duration on a school night declines from more than nine to a little less than eight hours per night, and reports of disrupted sleep increase over the interval. Generally, stressful social ties (eg, when family composition changes because of divorce or remarriage) were shown to disrupt sleep. Teenagers had healthier sleep (longer duration and of higher quality) when social ties were a source of support, such as when they felt part of the schools they attended or they were surrounded by academically oriented and prosocial friends.

Source: Social Ties and Adolescent Sleep Disruption (2013), Journal of Health and Social Behaviors, 54(4).

Young children benefit from regular bedtimes

Researchers from University College London have published new findings on whether bedtimes in early childhood are related to cognitive test scores in seven year-olds. They examined data on bedtimes and cognitive tests for reading, maths, and spatial abilities for 11,178 seven year-old children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, and found that consistent bedtimes during early childhood are related to cognitive performance.

Findings showed that irregular bedtimes at age three were independently associated, in both girls and boys, with lower cognitive test scores in reading, maths, and spatial skills. Cumulative relationships were also apparent. Girls who did not have regular bedtimes at ages three, five, and seven had significantly lower cognitive test scores in reading, maths, and spatial skills, while for boys this was the case for those having irregular bedtimes at any two ages (three, five, or seven). The authors note that inconsistent bedtimes might be a reflection of chaotic family settings and it is this, rather than disrupted sleep, that impacts on cognitive performance in children. However, they found that inconsistent bedtimes were linked to markers of cognitive performance independent of multiple markers of stressful family environments.

Source: Time for Bed: Associations with Cognitive Performance in 7-year-old Children: A Longitudinal Population-based Study (2013), Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

To study or to sleep?

The amount of time spent studying may not matter if the pupil has not had enough sleep, according to research published in Child Development. This longitudinal study examined the effect that varying amounts of study and sleep had on teenagers’ studies the following day. The results suggest that regardless of how much a pupil generally studies each day, if they sacrifice sleep time to study more than usual they will be more likely to struggle in class, or on an assignment or test, the following day.

This problem becomes increasingly prevalent over time, the study proposes, because pupils are more likely to sacrifice sleep time for study time in the latter years of secondary school. A further study in this area, reported in the latest Better: Evidence-based Education, adds to the evidence that the amount of sleep a teenager gets (too much or too little) affects academic performance. It found that teenagers who sleep seven hours a night tend to have the highest test scores, while teenagers who sleep for less than six or more than 11 hours tend to perform poorly on tests.

Source: To study or to sleep? The academic costs of extra studying at the Expense of Sleep (2012), Child Development, 84(1)

Sleep and test scores: Is there a connection?

new study has concluded that there is an optimum amount of time for children and young people to sleep in terms of how well they perform in school, and more is not necessarily better. The research, published in the Eastern Economic Journal, used data from 1,724 primary and secondary pupils to explore the relationship between sleep and performance on standardised tests. 

Findings showed a statistically significant relationship between the two, with the most beneficial amount of time varying by age. This ranged from 9-9.5 hours for 10-year-olds to 7 hours for 16-year-olds.

Source: Sleep and Student Achievement (2012), Eastern Economic Journal,38(33).