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Unlocking the links between sleep and health in kids

Children with poor sleep habits are more likely to have physical and emotional health issues, a UOW study has found.

The study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, used Medicare data from a group of almost 3,000 children to track their health and quality of life at four points between birth and seven years of age.

The researchers asked parents to keep sleep journals and answer interview questions about their children’s sleep patterns, including how often their children had experienced problems like difficulty waking, feeling sad, problems socialising or missing school due to illness, which were meant to rate the child’s overall quality of life.

The results suggest environmental and social factors, like household financial hardship, may play a role in conjunction with genetics in influencing the regulation of sleep.

Lead author, Dr Christopher Magee from the Centre for Health Initiatives at UOW, said sleep is important to child development, but there is limited understanding of individual developmental patterns of sleep, their underlying determinants, and how these influence health and wellbeing.

“Sleep is important for a lot of reasons, and can influence health and wellbeing and cognitive functioning,” Magee told Reuters.

Magee, who specialises in researching issues related to health psychology and population health, said the study showed that children who slept the most as infants (about 14 hours) and gradually decreased their sleep duration until age seven, when they got an average of almost 11 hours per night had the best health outcomes.

The researchers dubbed this group of children “typical sleepers” and they accounted to 40 per cent of the study participants.

The children who had the poorest long-term health outcomes had the most unusual sleep pattern, which started short, with sleeps of less than 10 hours in infancy, gradually increasing with time.

These children tended to have a lower physical functioning score on the quality of life scale than typical sleepers, as well as lower emotional and social functioning scores.

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