NIMH study to explore associations between poor childhood sleep, risk for mood disorders

The NIMH is funding a study that will explore how inadequate sleep in childhood affects risk for emotional disorders later in life.

“In particular, we are interested in understanding how children appraise, express, regulate and later recall emotional experiences, both when sleep is adequate and when it is inadequate,” study researcher Candice Alfano, PhD, director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, University of Houston, said in a press release. “We focus on childhood, because similar to problems with anxiety and depression, sleep habits and patterns develop early in life and can be enduring.”

Candice Alfano

Candice Alfano

To identify emotional process that increase risk for anxiety and depression when affected by poor sleep, Alfano and Cara Palmer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, will temporarily restrict sleep among children aged 7 to 11 years.

“Healthy sleep is critical for children's psychological well-being. Continually experiencing inadequate sleep can eventually lead to depression, anxiety and other types of emotional problems. Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity,” Alfano said in the release. “There are multiple emotional processes that seem to be disrupted by poor sleep. For example, our ability to self-monitor, pick up on others’ nonverbal cues and accurately identify others' emotions diminishes when sleep is inadequate. Combine this with less impulse control, a hallmark feature of the teenage years, and sleep deprivation can create a 'perfect storm' for experiencing negative emotions and consequences.”

The NIMH is funding a study that will explore how inadequate sleep in childhood affects risk for emotional disorders later in life.

“In particular, we are interested in understanding how children appraise, express, regulate and later recall emotional experiences, both when sleep is adequate and when it is inadequate,” study researcher Candice Alfano, PhD, director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, University of Houston, said in a press release. “We focus on childhood, because similar to problems with anxiety and depression, sleep habits and patterns develop early in life and can be enduring.”

Candice Alfano

Candice Alfano

To identify emotional process that increase risk for anxiety and depression when affected by poor sleep, Alfano and Cara Palmer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, will temporarily restrict sleep among children aged 7 to 11 years.

“Healthy sleep is critical for children's psychological well-being. Continually experiencing inadequate sleep can eventually lead to depression, anxiety and other types of emotional problems. Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity,” Alfano said in the release. “There are multiple emotional processes that seem to be disrupted by poor sleep. For example, our ability to self-monitor, pick up on others’ nonverbal cues and accurately identify others' emotions diminishes when sleep is inadequate. Combine this with less impulse control, a hallmark feature of the teenage years, and sleep deprivation can create a 'perfect storm' for experiencing negative emotions and consequences.”