Sleeplessness and Cognitive Development in Children

Posted on: 9th June 2014

A few weeks ago I was finding myself a little sleep-deprived thanks to the arrival of my neighbour’s children for a holiday visit.  I know I’m not the only one who has experienced a complete loss of coordination and mental faculty from a few weeks of broken nights’ sleep.  Any of you who are parents will, I’m sure, be scoffing at my mention of the impact from a mere ‘few weeks’!

Nonetheless, as I lay awake for the umpteenth night listening to the thunder of tiny feet on the ceiling above me I started thinking about the sleep experiences of our younger members and the impact that had on them.  There have been many studies on the effects of a lack of sleep on cognitive performance.  Their conclusions show convincingly that lack of adequate sleep can undermine a child’s ability to learn, especially among girls, and also suggest that over time the learning losses are significant compared to the normative gains of children getting adequate sleep.

Most troubling is the common view that lack of cognitive growth is cumulative; each year of sleepiness adversely interferes with the development of cognitive abilities.  Knowing that in general the children attending Body & Soul live in inadequate accommodation and stressful situations, I was interested to explore how prevalent that impact was for them.  I did a snapshot survey of the 15 older children present one Tuesday about their sleep patterns.  The results were definitely food for thought with 64% reporting having trouble relaxing to get to sleep, 82% waking more than once from nightmares each week and 46% identifying they often or very often felt tired in school.

An evening on the theme of ‘Relax’ followed in the children’s centre, with the mini Zen gardens above proving very popular and a good way of beginning conversations with the children about the importance of a good night’s sleep.  It was a small step in the direction of addressing a worrying problem but hopefully the first of many on a path to equipping the children with strategies to mitigate one impact of their circumstances.


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