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Ottawa researchers link kids' impulsive behaviour to sleep, screen time

"Impulsive behaviour is associated with numerous mental health and addiction problems, including eating disorders, behavioural addictions and substance abuse," said the study's lead author.
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Regularly getting good sleep and limiting screen time may be key in reducing impulsive behaviours and poor decision-making in children, according to local research into sleep and screen habits.

The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, was written by researchers at Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It analysed the first set of data from more than 4,524 children in a large longitudinal population study called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which will follow participants for 10 years.

The authors looked at eight measures of impulsivity, such as a child's tendency to seek out thrilling experiences, to set desired goals, to respond sensitively to rewarding or unpleasant stimuli, and to act rashly in negative and positive moods. 

"Impulsive behaviour is associated with numerous mental health and addiction problems, including eating disorders, behavioural addictions and substance abuse," said Dr. Michelle Guerrero, lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. "This study shows the importance of especially paying attention to sleep and recreational screen time, and reinforces the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.  When kids follow these recommendations, they are more likely to make better decisions and act less rashly than those who do not meet the guidelines."

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend:

  • Between nine and 11 hours of sleep each night
  • No more than two hours of recreational screen time per day

The study results suggest that meeting the pillars of the movement guidelines was associated with more favorable outcomes on five of the eight dimensions of impulsivity.

Guerrero and her team said that studies using feedback devices to measure the movement behaviours in future research will help further our understanding of how physical activity, screen time, and sleep relate to children's impulsivity.




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Jason White

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