The question of how much sleep children and adolescents need seems simple on its surface, but is actually not that easy to answer definitively. The question is almost always raised in terms of how many hours of sleep are needed, and typically the question ends there. Not always stated but implicit in the question is how many hours are needed for optimal functioning cognitively and academically, optimal emotional well-being, and optimal health. Further, no consideration is usually given to quality or day-to-day variability in sleep, both of which may well be more important than the number of hours needed.

A study has now been published that examines dose-related relationships for sleep and both academic achievement and socioemotional measures. In the journal, Child Development, Fuligni and colleagues (2017) report on a study of 421 15-year-olds, where they had participants track sleep duration and variability from night to night over a two-week period. They compared sleep data with GPA, standardized achievement test scores, and self-reported socioemotional adjustment—internalizing (e.g depression; anxiety) and externalizing problems (e.g. misbehavior). For socioemotional adjustment, they found that 8.75 to 9 hours of sleep was optimal, which is in line with most guidelines that have been recommended by experts. But for academic outcomes, 7 to 7.5 hours was found, which is well below what experts recommend (8-10 hours for teenagers). One interpretation of the latter result is there is a subset of teenagers who stay up later at night to study. But Fuligni et al (2017) suggest that those who do so may be trading better emotional health for higher achievement. They also found that greater variability was associated with poorer mental health…..

– Joseph A. Buckhalt

Read More: Optimal Sleep Times for Children and Adolescents

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