Small increases in the amount of sleep a child gets can improve behavior at school by a significant amount, while slight decreases in sleep can make them more likely to act out, according to a new study.
The authors say that the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, is the first controlled investigation of the effect of sleep extension or reduction on the behavior of healthy children at school.
The researchers split 34 children ages 7 to 11 into two groups of 17, extending the sleep of one group by up to an hour and reducing the sleep of the other group by about the same amount. They measured the amount of sleep each child got during a baseline period and then during the experimental period using a special wristwatch called an actiwatch that keeps track of how much each child moved during the night. To test changes in a child's behavior, the researchers gave a questionnaire to the child's teacher with questions about mood and behavior. Importantly, the teachers did not know which group each child was in.
The team had more luck reducing sleep than extending it: The extension group slept an average of 27 minutes longer than normal, while the reduction group slept 54 minutes less.