Study: Tiny changes in how much sleep kids get have major impact on behavior

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DENVER -- It’s no surprise how important sleep is to a growing child.

But a new study in the journal Pediatrics shows us even a tiny increase or decrease in sleep has a big impact on their behavior.

Mom Julie Gibbs doesn’t have to worry about an emotional meltdown from her 7-year-old son, Tyler.

That’s because he spends enough time in bed, sleeping.

“At least 12 hours of sleep, if he can get it. So we do about 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day,” says Julie.

And she’s pretty lucky. She doesn’t have a battle of wills on her hands each night.

"I love bed time. I do. I do. I like it,” says Tyler.

A new sleep study looked at 34 kids ages 7 to 11 and divided them into two groups.

One groups went to bed an hour earlier than normal, the other an hour later.

Those in bed earlier averaged 27.36 minutes more sleep.

While the other group averaged 54.04 minutes less sleep.

And the results on their behavior at school significant better or worse.

"Children were reported to be less sleepy during the day, less emotional lability, which means they were less likely to start crying or get really angry, very quickly. And also just their ability to sit still and pay attention in class all improved, just 27 minutes more of sleep per night, and that was over only five nights," says Dr. Lisa Meltzer, Pediatric Sleep Specialist at National Jewish Health, who explained the study.

But kids with less sleep over five nights had the complete opposite results.

"Parents reported that they were much more sleepy during the day. Their teachers reported the children were unable to pay attention in class and that they were much more likely to start crying in class or again, get very angry, quickly," says Dr. Meltzer.

"I think it’s right on (the study). Absolutely. Even my younger one who is four. They get more cranky if they don't get enough sleep. They can't focus and concentrate," says Julie.

Sleep experts say parents must make sleep a priority--like having a consistent sleep schedule every night, weekdays and weekends. Also, keep technology, like cell phones, laptops and TV’s, out of the bedroom.

“I know children with TV’s in their bedrooms sleep 30 minutes less a night—just the mere presence of a TV in a bedroom,” says Dr. Meltzer.

"I like to stay up for the Olympics and stuff," says Tyler.

And while the first-grader occasionally likes to stay up later, hye knows his early shut-eye is good for him.

Sleep experts now have scientific proof.

"Going to bed one hour earlier, that's not a lot to ask a family, can make a big difference in terms of a child's daytime behavior,” says Dr. Meltzer.

Doctors recommend newborns get 15-16 hours of sleep per day.

Children 1-12 months old should get 14-15 hours.

Kids 1-3 need 12-14 hours.

3-6 year-olds need 10-12 hours.

7-12 year-olds: 10-11 hours.

And those 12-18 years need 8-9 hours.

These, of course, are averages. Some children will need less and some more.