What impacts more adversely sleep in children and adults, short sleep time or waking up at night?
Updated: Apr 27
The question is often asked which is more "difficult", or which is more disruptive to the sleep of children and adults. Is it that we do not get enough sleep or that we wake up at night.
Although this question is asked a lot and despite the high prevalence in daily life, recurrent night awakenings of and their cognitive and emotional consequences have received less research attention compared to other types of sleep disorders.
Michal Kahn, the late Prof. Sadeh and partners examined this question in the study. Their aim was to compare the effects of one night of initiated night awakenings (of ~ 15 min, each of which requires a response) and sleep restriction on attention and mood among young adults.
Men and women in their 20s underwent a home assessment of attention and self-report of mood at two times: after a normal night of sleep, and after a night of sleep restriction (4 hours in bed) or after a night of initiated awakenings (four prolonged awakenings over 8 hours in bed) . Sleep assessment was done using an actigraph (a kind of wristwatch that measures movements and represents sleep and sleep difficulties) sleep diaries. Attention span was measured on a computer task and mood was measured by a self-report questionnaire).
The actigraph data showed that both in the state of sleep deprivation and in the state of awakenings there was a decrease in mood and impaired attention relative to the state of "normal" night. There was no difference in these indices between the state of multiple awakenings in sleep and the limit of sleep time.
The conclusion according to this study was that similar to sleep restriction, one night of repeated night awakenings can adversely affect mood and attentive ability.
It is important to note that previous studies show that disturbed sleep has an adverse effect on a variety of areas in the functioning of children and adults. Both on mood, both on attention and in the behavioral context. In fact there are children who get a diagnosis of a behavioral disorder or attention deficit disorder even though it is actually a sleep disorder that can lead to signs similar to these disorders. So if the sleep problem is treated these signs will be significantly lessened.
It is advisable to make an assessment of sleep and sleep problems in any situation where there is a complaint about these difficulties mentioned.
For our self help picture book for parents and children to cope with nighttime fears and sleep problems click here
For our parental guidance book to cope with their children's nighttime fears click here