More Research on the Connection Between Sleep and Behavior for Kids

Establishing healthy sleep patterns

Children who experience poor sleep during pre-school and early school-age years are at increased risk for developing cognitive and behavioral problems in mid-childhood.

Does your child get enough sleep or experience difficulty sleeping? In addition to the negative consequences both the child and family can experience when they are getting too little sleep, young children who have sleep problems are at a higher risk of having more behavior problems as they get older.

In a recent study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, children who experienced routine sleep shortfalls (i.e. too little sleep) during preschool and early school-age years were more likely to experience problematic emotional control, peer relationships, and attention patterns that showed up when the children were seven years old.

This study was a long-term investigation that explored health impacts of several factors throughout maternal pregnancy and following birth. Mothers were asked several questions, both as in-person interviews and in questionnaires when their children were around 6 months, at age one and then every year until their children were age seven.

Dr. Elsie Taveras, the lead researcher from this study, emphasizes that sleep levels during infancy will often predict sleep levels during later ages in childhood. Insufficient sleep is often associated with development of chronic health conditions such as obesity, which can be experienced both by the children and their mothers. Dr. Taveras notes that one reason poor sleep habits in early childhood may lead to conditions such as obesity in later years is that the behavioral problems resulting from insufficient sleep and brain development may lead to habits of eating high calorie or otherwise unhealthy foods.

Given the immediate and long term consequences experienced by children and family members who get too little sleep, it is important for parents to help their children try to get enough sleep. Children ages 6 months to 2 years need 12 hours or longer per night, ages 3 to 4 need 11 hours or longer, and ages 5 to 7 need 10 or more hours. Appropriate sleep levels can be accomplished by creating a home environment that supports healthy sleep pattern, establishing consistent sleep routines, and speaking with the child’s healthcare provider about concerns with sleep.

Sleep is essential for supporting good behavior throughout a child’s life, and it’s never too early to start establishing healthy sleep patterns. For more information and strategies to help your child sleep better, check out this article.

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Massachusetts General Hospital. (2017). Poor sleep in early childhood may lead to cognitive, behavioral problems in later years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from

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