New research out of Australia’s Queensland University of Technology suggests that 1 in 3 children between newborn and five years of age have trouble sleeping, leading to behavioral and emotional problems in the school setting. It was found that children who can ease themselves back to sleep in their earliest years have more productivity and better attention in school.
This new research involved looking at almost 3000 children in the study, “Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.” Dr. Kate Williams of QUT’s School of Early Childhood reviewed the sleeping patterns of the children who were born in 2004, up to the age of six or seven years. She notes that by five years age, most children (70%) are able to self-regulate their sleep; however, the remaining 30% may have developmental problems due to sleep irregularity.
This study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, is the largest sample size for the topic, during which time mothers reported any sleep problems, along with emotional or behavioral concerns between birth and five years of age; while preschool teachers and daycare workers reported any emotional and behavioral problems during the day.
The surprise in the study came to Dr. Williams when she saw that there were escalating behavioral concerns in school in those children who had poorer regulation of sleep, emotions, and attention throughout the day. The children who were associated with having escalated emotional and behavioral problems were also linked to more frequent emotional outbursts, attention deficits, and hyperactivity.
The research implies that if these sleep patterns are not under control by the age of five, then the child is at increased risk of poor adjustment and behavior in later school years. There is a great opportunity, Dr. Williams believes, to teach more about sleep hygiene in children, with greater than 85% of parents utilizing childcare and preschool.
This most recent study indicates that prevention is the key to better school performance in young children. It is extremely important that children learn these self-regulation skills, so parents will need to cut back on some of their habits – such as lying down with children, allowing them into their bed in the middle of the night, etc.
This research was built off of another study out of QUT that looked at how mandatory daytime naps in childcare or preschool can contribute to poor sleep habits later in life and, therefore, contribute to problems in school. It is believed, however, that sleep problems can be fixed long before a child reaches the first grade, so long as parents, preschool teachers, and childcare workers are well informed and willing to make necessary changes, which ultimately will probably be difficult.
Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, fishing, and reading.