November 19, 2010

Babies Boost Brain Power By Sleeping more at Night

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ Children between the ages of 1 and 1 ½ who get most of their sleep at night, opposed to during the day, do better in a wide range of skills than children who don't sleep much at night.

The study was conducted on 60 Canadian children aged 1, 1-1/2, and 2. The researchers looked at the effects of sleep on executive functioning. Executive functioning in children includes the ability to control impulses, remember things, and show mental flexibility. Executive functioning develops rapidly between ages 1 and 6, but little is known about why certain children are better than others at attaining these skills.

"We found that infants' sleep is associated with cognitive functions that depend on brain structures that develop rapidly in the first two years of life," Annie Bernier, professor of psychology at the University of Montreal, who led the study, was quoted as saying. "This may imply that good nighttime sleep in infancy sets in motion a cascade of neural effects that has implications for later executive skills."

The mothers filled out three-day sleep diaries that included hour-by-hour patterns, daytime naps, and nighttime waking when their infants were 1 and 1-1/2. When the children were 1-1/2 and 2, the researchers measured how the children did on the skills involved with executive functioning.

Children who got most of their sleep during the night did better on the tasks, especially those involving impulse control, than children who didn't sleep much at night. The researchers took into consideration factors such as parent's education and incomes and the children's general cognitive skills. After these factors were considered, the link between sleep and skills remained. The number of times infants woke at night and the total time spent sleeping were not found to relate to the infants' executive functioning skills.

"These findings add to previous research with school-age children, which has shown that sleep plays a role in the development of higher-order cognitive functions that involve the brain's prefrontal cortex," Bernier said.

SOURCE: Child Development, published online November 16, 2010