(CNN) — One of the keys to keeping your child happy and healthy is making sure they get consistent enough sleep, according to a new study.
This is not a surprise for parents, is it? But it turns out that even 39 minutes can make a difference, the results showed.
In the study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers monitored 100 children between the ages of 8 and 12 who lived in New Zealand. The children alternated between one week of going to bed an hour earlier and another one hour later, with a week of normal time in between.
Then, using a questionnaire, the children and their parents rated their sleep disturbances and how they felt during the day. The researchers also gave the children a survey about their health-related quality of life.
The children who participated in the study regularly slept between 8 and 11 hours a night and were considered generally healthy, according to the study.
After one week of receiving 39 less minutes of sleep per night, the children reported lower overall well-being and a reduced ability to cope with their schoolwork, according to the study.
“We all know that a good night’s (sleep) makes us feel better, but there is very little data from experimental designs to really show (how) big the impact might be,” study lead author Rachael Taylor said in an email. electronic. “This kind of interventional data is the only way to ‘prove’ that changing one behavior actually affects another.”
The study covered many aspects of well-being, including an assessment of how the children felt physically and psychologically in their relationships with parents and peers, and how they felt at school, said Taylor, a research professor of medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
The assessment included questions about whether the children felt they could pay attention in school and whether they felt physically fit, and also whether they had energy to play and spend time with friends.
Not all of the children were able to reduce their sleep by the full hour in the study, Taylor said. But any amount they reduced caused a decline in their well-being, she said. And the impacts were greatest when participants lost a half hour or more of sleep, she added.
“We hadn’t seen this type of study looking at health-related quality of life or quality of life outcomes, which we know are really important because it’s often something that can really resonate with families, with teachers or with public health officials, when we think about how important it is to promote good sleep,” said Ariel Williamson, a pediatric sleep expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Williamson, who is also an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, was not involved in the research.
The children in the study were monitored from July 4 to September 1, 2022, and there are still questions about the long-term impacts they experienced, Taylor said.
“We don’t know what the long-term effect might be: maybe the children will adjust, maybe they won’t and their well-being will get even worse,” Taylor said in an email.
In the meantime, he advised families “not to underestimate the value of sleep and to prioritize sleep as much as possible.”
It may be easy to get a little less sleep, but getting less good-quality sleep could lead to eating more junk food, poorer school performance and poorer mental health, Taylor added.
And while getting enough and good sleep is important, it’s also crucial to make an individualized plan for each family, Williamson said.
Some children with differences in neurodevelopment, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have variations in sleep needs, for example. Also, work or activity schedules may make it difficult to go to bed as early as children would like, she added.
If you think your child could benefit from more sleep, Williamson recommends starting small and even pushing bedtime back 15 minutes.
And quality is just as important as quantity. For the most restful sleep, he recommends kids go to bed at the same time every night (even on weekends), turn off screens 30 minutes before bedtime, and stick to a routine, he added.
For some kids, that might mean relaxing activities that get them into bed, but for other kids that might mean dancing or stretching to prepare their bodies, Williamson said.
Some families may prioritize the bath, book and bed routine for younger children, but older children and even adults can benefit from sticking to a schedule that alerts the brain and body when it’s time to adjust, she said.
“Sometimes I think that if we focused more on sleep, many other aspects of children’s health and well-being would be greatly improved,” Taylor said. After all, she said, who doesn’t like a good night’s sleep?