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Sleep is critical for our mental and physical well-being. Sleep deprivation increases our risk of developing many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, kidney dysfunction, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. More than a third of all adults living in the United States report regular short sleep duration. Data from a recent study suggest that children are particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of six and 12 years should sleep nine to 12 hours every night for optimal health. Inadequate sleep in children is associated with poor mental and physical health.

The authors of the study analyzed structural MRI data from more than 11,000 children between the ages of nine and 11 years who were enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. They also assessed the children’s cognitive performance and mental health status. The parents of the children in the study provided information about their child’s sleep duration by answering the question, “How many hours of sleep does your child get on most nights?”

The study revealed that children who had shorter sleep duration were more likely to experience depression and anxiety and were more likely to exhibit impulsive behavior and poor cognitive performance. The association between poor sleep and depression persisted and were observed at the one-year follow-up. In addition, the volume of the orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal and temporal cortex, precuneus, and supramarginal gyrus regions of the sleep-deprived children’s brains were lower than children who received adequate sleep.

These findings underscore the importance of adequate sleep for proper brain function, especially in the developing brain.

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