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Study: How inadequate sleep seriously affects children’s emotional health

Not getting enough sleep can expose a child to far more serious consequences than irritability, difficulty concentrating and impatience.

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It can in fact lead to serious emotional disorders later, a new study has revealed.

According to Candice Alfano, a clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor at the University of Houston, children who experience inadequate or disrupted sleep are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders later in life.

Dr Alfano and co-investigator Cara Palmer, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston (SACH), discovered that inadequate sleep impacts children’s emotional health not only by creating more negative emotions, but also by altering positive emotional experiences.

For example, after just two nights of poor sleep, children derive less pleasure from positive things, are less reactive to them and less likely to recall details about these positive experiences later.

When their normal nightly sleep habits are adequate in duration, however, they’re finding these emotional effects are less apparent.

“Healthy sleep is critical for children’s psychological well-being,” Dr Alfano said. “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.”

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