Stressed Kids Need Sleep

A return to school means a different environment, making and seeing new and old friends, and beginning a fresh routine. Activities that while normal, are associated with considerable stress for kids.

New research finds getting a good night’s sleep is critical as poor sleep can compound the effects of stress and lead to detrimental long-term health consequences.

In the study, researchers Jinshia Ly, Jennifer J. McGrath and Jean-Philippe Gouin from Concordia University’s Centre for Clinical Research in Health and the PERFORM Centre found that poor sleep can exacerbate the cortisol-related effects of stress.

Conversely, getting a good night’s sleep might buffer the impact of stress on kids’ cortisol level, which is a hormone produced in the adrenal gland to regulate the body’s cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune systems.

While short-term exposure to cortisol prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response, long-term exposure to cortisol can put people at risk for health problems, like heart diseases, weight gain, and depression.

The study appears in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

As background information, researchers explain that the topic of sleep has its nuances. For example, what does it mean to have a good night’s sleep?

Jinshia Ly, lead author and graduate student, explains that, “sleep researchers distinguish sleep duration, or how long one spends sleeping, from sleep quality, or how well one sleeps.”

Sleeping throughout the night without waking up, feeling rested in the morning, and absence of sleep problems, such as nightmares, apnea, and snoring, are examples of a better quality sleep.

Researchers recruited 220 kids aged eight to 18 years old. They then measured individual cortisol levels from saliva samples. The kids and their parents also answered questions about stress, sleep habits, and bedtime routines.

Investigators found that poorer sleep quality, regardless of how long kids spent sleeping, promoted the negative effects of stress on their cortisol levels.

So, what are the implications for parents, as the school year starts and stress likely increases for kids? Investigators say that better sleep, combined with other healthy lifestyle behaviors, can reduce the negative consequences of stress on kids’ cortisol levels.

Kids should sleep eight to 9 hours each night.

“But it’s even more important that they get to bed early with regular sleep and wake times, avoid napping during the day, and avoid using electronic devices before bedtime. It is also important that parents educate their kids at an early age about the importance of consistent and healthy sleep habits,” says Ly.

This solid grounding can help kids make better choices when they gain greater autonomy in setting their bedtime routines as they get older.

Source: Concordia University/EurekAlert