a yawning babySleep is important, particularly for infants and young children. A new study from Australia’s University of Wollongong found that children who regularly sleep too little have a lower quality of life than children who get a typical amount of sleep. The study is part of a growing body of evidence indicating that sleep is critical for young children.

Using information from Medicare Australia, the researchers gathered data on a sample of nearly 3,000 children. In this longitudinal study, the researchers tracked children’s health and quality of life from birth through age seven, surveying the children’s parents four times. The parents kept journals and answered interview questions about their children’s sleep patterns. They also reported quality of life indicators like whether their children had difficulty walking, felt sad, or experienced social problems.

The data suggested four groups of sleepers among the children:

  • “Typical Sleepers” (40%) slept around 14 hours per night as infants, gradually decreasing to around 11 hours per night at age seven, making them the most well-rested group of children.

  • “Persistent Short Sleepers” (11%) slept in the same pattern as typical sleepers, sleeping a lot as infants and sleeping less by age seven, but they consistently slept approximately an hour less than Typical Sleepers.

  • “Initially Short Sleepers” (45%) slept less than Typical Sleepers as infants, but slept as much as Typical Sleepers by age five or six.

  • “Poor Sleepers” (3%) slept less than 10 hours per night as infants, but gradually increased their sleep duration over time.

The Poor and Initially Short Sleepers had a lower physical functioning score on the quality of life scale compared to Typical Sleepers. Persistent Short Sleepers also exhibited lower physical functioning and had lower scores in emotional and social functioning.

“For many children, good sleep could be promoted by having regular bedtimes, limiting household noise, and limiting TV viewing and electronic media near bedtime. If a child has persistent problems sleeping and this is impacting on their normal daily activities, then it may be a good idea to seek some advice,” commented lead study author Christopher Magee.

This research is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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