More than half of school-aged kids don't get enough sleep, says new study

New research shows that more than half of school-age children aren't getting the recommended nine hours of sleep a night, and they're losing out on more than just rest. Sleep-deprived kids don't show as many signs of development, according to an abstract being presented before experts this month.

"Our research shows that children who get enough sleep are more likely to demonstrate measures of childhood flourishing in comparison to children with insufficient sleep," Dr. Hoi See Tsao, author of the abstract, said in a press release about the findings, which she will present at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

Researchers used data from the 2016-2017 National Survey of Childrens' Health, in which caregivers and parents gave self-reported answers. Of the 49,050 children ages 6-17 years old represented in the survey, only 47.6% got an average of nine hours of sleep on weeknights.

AAP recommends the guidelines set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which state that children ages 6-12 years should sleep 9-12 hours a night, while teenagers ages 13-18 should sleep 8-10 hours. Infants need 12-16 hours, toddlers need 11-14 and preschoolers need 10-13 hours of sleep.

We already knew that sleep makes kids (and adults) healthier, affecting everything from weight and growth to attention and temperament. What this new research shows is the combined advantage for what pediatricians call "flourishing markers."

The survey asked whether children showed interest and curiosity in new things, cared about school, did their homework, completed tasks, and stayed calm in the face of a challenge. Those who got at least nine hours had better odds in all but that last category (only half of all kids, it seems, can be calm and collected in tough situations). The kids who didn't get enough sleep were about 12% less likely to flourish in all four categories.

The biggest difference was in homework. Caregivers said 68.4% of kids who got eight or fewer hours of sleep definitely did all required homework, while 80.2% who got nine or more hours definitely did all of it.

Tsao, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital would like healthcare providers to do more to educate parents. "This research reinforces the importance of increasing efforts to maximize sleep sufficiency for children including addressing digital media usage, bedtime routines and school duration and start times," Tsao told Newsweek.

This also a good reminder for parents and educators that if a child doesn't appear engaged at school, they might just need to get more sleep. If any other school systems are looking into following California's example and delaying start times for middle and high school, this is one more reason to go for it.

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