Earlier Bedtimes for Your Tweens? Inadequate Sleep Is Bad for Preteens' Brains, Study Says

They may be a big kid, but they still need more hours of sleep than you think

By: Amanda Mushro
Cape Town, South Africa, Boy sleeping in class

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Cape Town, South Africa, Boy sleeping in class

Photo by: Westend61

Westend61

When we talk about sleep and kids, usually we’re focused on the sleep routines of babies and toddlers. However, a new study reveals that it’s time to get our tweens on a better sleep schedule because when they aren’t getting enough sleep– it’s more than just being grumpy and tired the next day. Your tween’s growing brain is greatly affected by not getting enough sleep and this could lead to issues well into adulthood.

Tweens should be sleeping between 9 and 12 hours a night, but as many parents can attest to, this doesn’t always happen.

According to a study from Boston Children’s Hospital, poor sleep can actually change a tween's brain. These changes can affect how they function in school or complete day-to-day tasks, but even more devastating is these changes can lead to issues with memory, attention, and emotional problems later in life.

Researchers analyzed sleep and brain imaging data through MRIs from more than 5,500 early adolescents between the ages of 9 to 11 years old. Parents were also asked to report on their child’s sleep habits– how long they sleep, how long it takes them to fall asleep, how often they wake up during the night, if they have a hard time falling back to sleep, and if their child deals with snoring, nightmares, difficulty waking up, or daytime sleepiness.

What they found was poor sleep shows up on their tired faces and in the way their entire brain works.

"Early adolescence is a critical time in brain development," says lead researcher Caterina Stamoulis, PhD. "Preteens' brain circuits are rapidly maturing, particularly those supporting higher-level thought processes like decision-making, problem-solving, and the ability to process and integrate information from the outside world. We show that inadequate sleep could have enormous implications for cognitive and mental health for individual children and at the population level."

In addition to the brain changes, researchers also noted some other interesting findings:

  • They found that girls slept less than boys. Girls averaged 8 to 9 hours of sleep as compared with 9-11 hours for boys.
  • Girls took longer to fall asleep.
  • Tweens who reported longer screen time had significantly shorter sleep durations.
  • Tweens who were overweight had shorter sleep duration, had more movement during the night, sweating, snoring, difficulty waking, and daytime sleepiness.

So what can parents do with this new information? After all, getting kids to bed earlier at any age can be tricky. Experts say start with small changes:

  • Make sure kids are getting physical activity during the day.
  • Turn off all screens several hours before bed. That’s right — several hours. Sorry, kids.
  • Make their bedrooms a dark, quiet, and comfortable place.
  • Try moving their bedtime up 15 minutes every few days.

These small steps can make a big difference in a better night's sleep and a healthier brain.

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