Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Getting the right amount of sleep is cardinal to attaining and maintaining optimal physical and mental health, especially for kids.
Increasing evidence shows that children need optimal sleep to reach their full cognitive potential and prevent health troubles.
This article will elaborate on the effects of insufficient sleep on a child’s cognitive development.
How Much Sleep do Kids Need?
Sleep is essential to the overall development of your child’s mental and physical health.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the required amount of sleep adequate for a child’s healthy development depends on the child’s age.
The amount of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children is:
- 12-16 hours of sleep for children, 4-12 months old
- 11-14 hours of sleep for children, 1-2 years old
- 10-13 hours of sleep for children, 3-5 years old
- 9-12 hours of sleep for children, 6-12 years old
- 8-10 hours of sleep for teenagers, 13-18 years
In a typical night’s sleep, a person experiences between four to six sleep cycles and two stages of sleep.
Sleep experts believe that experiencing these stages of sleep is necessary for the proper development of the brain and the proper functioning of the different domains of cognition.
According to studies, adequate sleep improves kids’ memory, mood, language acquisition, and learning.  Furthermore, sleep plays a significant role in physical growth and immunity development, particularly in infants.
How Does Insufficient Sleep Affect the Brain?
In a recent study, scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have linked poor sleep to sub-optimal brain development.
The researchers analyzed information gathered from more than 8,300 kids between the ages of 9 and 10 who signed up for the study.
The scientists looked at the children’s magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI), their medical records, and information provided by the kids and their parents at the start of the study.
They compared it to another set of brain imaging scans and data taken two years after the start of the study when the kids were between the ages of 11 and 12.
The researchers discovered that children who slept less than nine hours per night at the start of the study had a lower volume and grey matter in specific brain regions responsible for attention, memory, and inhibitory control than those with healthy sleep patterns.
According to Dr. Ze Wang, the study’s lead author and a professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the study is a trail-blazing study. It highlights the possible long-term effects of insufficient sleep on children’s neurocognitive development.
In addition, the study strongly supports the established guidelines for the duration of sleep children should get. “We attempted to match the two groups as accurately as possible to comprehend the long-term effects of insufficient sleep on the developing brain,” Dr. Wang explained. “This is an important study that emphasizes the need for long-term research on the developing child’s brain,” according to Dr. E. Albert Reece, Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland.
Furthermore, other studies suggest that inadequate sleep disrupts the natural process that relies on non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to form and preserve memories.
Sleep experts believe that those who don’t get enough sleep have an increased risk of developing faulty memories. Also, insufficient sleep impacts cognition by affecting how emotional information is interpreted. 
Insufficient sleep causes sleep fragmentation which impairs memory consolidation in kids. Another way inadequate sleep delays cognition in children is that it disrupts emotional intelligence.
Realizing the emotional context is crucial while solving a problem or learning. Additionally, sleep deprivation negatively impacts mood, making it more challenging to integrate the emotional component of information. 
Another element of cognition that can be negatively impacted by insufficient sleep is creativity.
Connecting concepts that are only tangentially related is a hallmark of creative thinking. This capacity is enhanced by sufficient sleep.
During non-REM sleep, the brain’s information is typically reconstructed and reorganized. Also, REM sleep is associated with the emergence of new ideas and the creation of connections between previously unrelated concepts.
These processes make it possible to gain insight, an essential component of innovative problem-solving and creative thinking.
Children who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to make mistakes and fail to take in new information. Insufficient sleep can be detrimental to their intellectual ability and academic growth.
How to Improve your Child’s Sleep
A healthy sleep pattern is essential for your child’s mental and physical health. Here are some things you can do to optimize your child’s sleep. They include:
- Create a Consistent Bedtime: Set a specific sleep time for your kid. Establishing a consistent nap time will help your child’s body and mind recognize when it is time to wind down and get ready for sleep and improve the quality and length of your child’s sleep.
- Keep Electronics Away: The blue light emitted by electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and television can inhibit the production of the hormone melatonin, which is essential for healthy sleep. Children may be particularly prone to the negative impacts of screen light. Additionally, light from electronic gadgets excites the brain, which makes it difficult to sleep. You should make sure to put all electronic devices away at least one hour before your child’s sleep time.
- Exercise: Playtime is good for your child’s sleep. Ensure your child gets at least an hour of physical activity during the day. However, ensure your child refrains from strenuous exercise close to bedtime, as it may be counterproductive.
Keep violent or frightening content away from your kids: It’s typical for children to have trouble falling or staying asleep because they are anxious or terrified. Ensure to keep all graphic contents that can harm your child’s sleep away.
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